Shorthanded Gophers fight en masse but fall 61-57 to Indiana

Gophers head coach Ben Johnson allowed himself to look ahead to next season when asked a few basketball philosophy questions on Tuesday.

“Hopefully next year will be the year where (we) are able to have the 13 full scholarship bodies,” Johnson said in his pregame news conference. “We just haven’t had that in two years.”

With two more players unavailable Wednesday, the Gophers had roughly half that roster max against Indiana at Williams Arena. Minnesota, an 11-point underdog, still came en masse but fell short late, 61-57, to the Hoosiers.

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) goes up to the basket against Minnesota forward Joshua Ola-Joseph (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, in Minneapolis. Indiana won 61-57. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

“Everybody contributed tenfold and the thing that I’m most proud of is their fight and their toughness and their grit,” Johnson said postgame. “They were scrappy.”

Minnesota was down to seven scholarship players after Gophers’ leading scorer Dawson Garcia and top freshman Pharrel Payne were ruled out Wednesday afternoon, a week after Braeden Carrington went down with a stress reaction in his leg. Preexisting season-ending injuries to forwards Isaiah Ihnen and Parker Fox have put the U without a full calvary since the start of the season.

That number diminished to five when Josh Ola-Joseph dealt with a calf cramp in the second half and former walk-on Will Ramberg, who is dealing with a leg injury, was not called to come off the bench.

As if what plagued Minnesota could spread, Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson was out with COVID-19, and associate head coach Yasir Rosemond took over.

Indiana star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis did play Wednesday, and the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week inflicted pain on the Gophers. His putback layup on Race Thompson’s missed free throw with 43 seconds left gave Indiana a 59-57 lead. Jackson-Davis finished with 25 points and 20 rebounds.

Jamison Battle played all 40 minutes and led Minnesota with 20 points, including four 3-pointers.

“I don’t really look at the minutes too much just because you are out there playing the game you love,” Battle said. “You don’t really take for granted when you play 40 minutes. Yes, you are tired, at the end of the game, but as long as I can look myself in the mirror that I worked my hardest, I’m fine playing 40 minutes.”

Ta’Lon Cooper played 35 minutes and Treyton Thompson, who has barely come off the bench in recent games, went nearly 37 minutes before fouling out, forcing Ola-Joseph to return.

The Gophers started the game in a zone defense and mixed up the types of zone schemes. The wrinkle threw off the Hoosiers — they had five turnovers in the opening eight minutes — and it helped Minnesota take a 13-12 lead.

Minnesota (7-12, 1-8 Big Ten) led for the bulk of the first half, but Indiana (14-6, 5-4) went on a 15-6 run that gave them a 33-30 lead at the half.

In the second half, Minnesota went on a 7-0 run to tie the game 47-47 with 10 minutes left and the Barn crowd appreciated what the makeshift roster was able to do.

But Minnesota missed its last 11 shots, with weary legs part of the equation, and the Hoosiers went on a 7-0 spurt to finish the game off.

Garcia’s absence was foreseen after he suffered a bone bruise in his foot in the 60-56 loss to Michigan on Sunday. Payne’s unavailability, due to concussion protocol, was a surprise, but it, too, came in the Wolverines game when he fell hard to the floor, Johnson said.

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