Gophers men’s basketball: Four things learned from Green Bay victory

·4 min read

Ben Johnson is as cool and calm as they come for first-year head coaches, but his frustration was almost at the boiling point in the first half of Wednesday's 72-56 Gophers' win against Green Bay.

The Gophers were going through a lengthy shooting slump, but Johnson was more upset with how they were struggling defensively and being outworked on the boards. He wasn't about to chew them out screaming when trailing 29-28 at halftime, though.

"I didn't even say much at halftime because they knew," Johnson said. "It was more of just, you guys need to figure this out. … If you want to be good, and take steps to be better every day, you've got to have that inner drive."

As they have in every game but one this season, the veteran Gophers (10-1) got themselves together in the second half to pull away, which included outscoring the Phoenix 44-27 on 62% shooting from the field in the second half.

Here are four things we learned in the win against Green Bay on Wednesday:

Counting on captains

Payton Willis and Eric Curry hadn't played together before this year since they were AAU teammates with the Arkansas Wings in high school.

You wouldn't know that from the way they worked together to lead the Gophers as captains this season.

The best example was on Wednesday with Green Bay in control in the first half.

Curry and Willis asserted themselves in the second half to contribute to rallies, both finishing with double-doubles.

Curry had his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. It was also his second straight game with double figure rebounds, following a 12-board performance against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Willis, who reached the 1,000-point mark for his career, had 10 of his 14 points in the second half, to go with 10 assists.

"I thought he just did a good job of seeing it. He's worked a lot on just pick and rolls, getting his reads down, being patient and playing slow on ball screens and I just thought he saw it [Wednesday].

Taking care of the ball

The Gophers' backcourt experience makes them one of the nation's best at taking care of the ball.

After a disappointing 28 turnovers last week against Corpus Christi, Johnson wasn't surprised to see his team get back on track with only five turnovers against Green Bay.

His backcourt of Willis, Luke Loewe, and E.J. Stephens have played in 353 games combined in their career. And it showed when the Phoenix tried to rattle them with more pressure to attempt a late comeback.

Willis had 10 assists but just one turnover that his coach joked never should've happened at the end of the game.

"I think it's just again that it goes back to the maturity piece. This is more us," Johnson said. "I told Payton that he would have had a perfect game if he didn't try to split that last ball screen, so it should have been four [as a team]."

Battle tested

Let the All-Big Ten first team talk begin for sophomore Jamison Battle, who continues to be the best among the league's newcomers.

The only players ahead of him in the Big Ten in scoring this season are returning stars such as Iowa's Keegan Murray, Illinois' Kofi Cockburn, Wisconsin's Johnny Davis, Ohio State's E.J. Liddell and Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis.

The 6-7 George Washington transfer ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 18.9 points per game after leading Minnesota with 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting Wednesday.

In the first half, Green Bay's lead would've been larger than a point if not for Battle's 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field.

Battle was taken out briefly in the first half when he missed a couple box outs in a row, but he understands his role isn't just to score. He's a humble superstar.

"I'm always supportive of the team," Battle said. "If I get taken out, I get taken out. There's probably a reason to it, but I'm not going to fret over it."

Bench production

If there is a weakness for the Gophers this season, it has to be their lack of depth, but they're still getting a spark from one player.

Senior sixth-man Sean Sutherlin bounced back from his seven-turnover game last week with 12 points, two blocks, and just one turnover in 20 minutes against the Phoenix, including 11 points in the second half.

Sutherlin was the only player to score off the bench Wednesday, but Charlie Daniels (15 minutes), Laye Thiam (four minutes), and Treyton Thompson (three minutes) also saw the floor.

The Gophers ranked 357th among all 358 Division I teams in bench minutes percentage (14.5) entering Wednesday, per Kenpom.com.

Starters Battle (37.5), Willis (36.0) and Loewe (34.2) are all among the top four Big Ten leaders in minutes played. Battle leads the entire conference, while Stephens (33.5) is eighth.

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