Wednesday, February 21

Gophers men’s basketball can’t quite catch up to Wisconsin in 68-67 loss


Ben Johnson entered Wednesday night with only one win in 13 games against Wisconsin as a Gophers player, assistant coach and now head coach at his alma mater.

Johnson knows the Gophers have to start winning the Border Battle to really make it a rivalry.

In their second-to-last regular-season home game Wednesday night, the Gophers gave their fans an exciting finish against the No. 13 Badgers, but they couldn’t avoid the season sweep, falling 68-67 in front of announced crowd of 11,761 at Williams Arena.

“I was reading something that the numbers aren’t in our favor against them the last 15 years,” Johnson said. “In order to make it a true rivalry, we got to carry our end of the bargain better.”

The Gophers (13-13, 4-13 Big Ten) had won only twice in the past 14 meetings with Wisconsin, but the first matchup this season also went down to the wire in a 66-60 loss Jan. 30 in Madison.

Playing in his first game against Wisconsin back in his home state, Jamison Battle scored a team-high 17 points, but he was held to three points in the second half.

The Badgers (22-5, 13-4) were led by their own Minnesota natives with Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl combining for 32 points and 17 rebounds.

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Crowl, a 7-footer from Eagan, led Wisconsin with 20 points, including a jump hook off the glass to beat the shot clock for a 66-62 lead with 1:17 remaining.

Payton Willis, who finished with 11 of his 13 points in the second half after missing the last game, pulled the Gophers within 66-64 with 40 seconds to go, but his effort was too late to help pull off the upset.

The Gophers, who end their home schedule Sunday against Indiana, shot just 39% in the second half, were outscored 36-20 in the paint and outrebounded 38-19.

“We made them miss shots and held guys under their average,” said E.J. Stephens, who finished with 13 points. “It’s just finishing the play out with rebounds. I think that was the biggest key.”

All-America candidate Johnny Davis had 25 points in a win against Michigan on Sunday that led to a postgame handshake line scuffle, but he was held to 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting Wednesday.

Sean Sutherlin, who had 11 points replacing Willis in the starting lineup, battled defensively against Davis for most of the night. It was a physical back-and-forth affair on both sides, but some players were fighting through more than just the opponent.

Willis missed Saturday’s 77-60 win against Northwestern dealing COVID-19 health and safety protocol, so he came off the bench against Wisconsin.

The Badgers used a 12-4 run to lead by as much as eight points midway through the second half, but Willis would get his legs back late. The senior captain’s back-to-back threes sparked an 8-0 run that tied the game 59-59 with 4:19 to play.

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Minnesota’s most recent win against the Badgers was by 18 points at home on Feb. 5, 2020. The only Gophers player on the current roster part of that victory was Willis, who had 21 points that night.

Last month, the Gophers were tied going into the last two minutes when Davis outscored them 6-0 to end the game, but he had help watching from the bench Wednesday night.

Davison, who grew up in Maple Grove, scored seven points on 2-for-8 shooting in his last game at the Barn. The fifth-year senior sealed the Badgers’ win with two free throws that extended it to a four-point advantage with 18 seconds left.

Wisconsin native Luke Loewe, who had just six points after his 24-point effort Saturday against Northwestern, drilled a three-pointer at the final buzzer, but the game was already decided.

“We got to go out there and just make winning plays,” Battle said. “Maybe it was a long rebound. Maybe it was us not getting stops. It has to do with that. In the end, in these last three or four games, you’re going to see us make those winning plays.”



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