Three-pointers dropped from everywhere. The defense played at a high level. Forward Dawson Garcia was the dominant player on the floor. Coach Ben Johnson's squad looked the best it had all season.
Eyeing another signature win, the Gophers seemed to lose all momentum after Garcia's exit because of a lower-body injury early in the second half. They'd won games before without their leading scorer, but the players' vibe was different in Sunday's 90-85 collapse against the Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Gophers (15-8, 6-6 Big Ten), who play Thursday at Purdue, were outscored 45-23 after Garcia left the game with less than 16 minutes to play. They were plus-18 when he was on the court.
Garcia finished with 18 points in the first half, to go with seven rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes. There were no injury updates on him as of Monday afternoon, but it wasn't expected to be a major setback.
"When he went out, we lost our edge," Johnson said Sunday. "He's such a key part of just the confidence piece. The edge, even defensively. He's our anchor, especially in a game like this. He kind of settles us. We were fighting the rest of the half to get that back."
Here are four things learned from the disappointing Super Bowl Sunday loss at Iowa:
No Garcia, no defense
There were a couple games this season when the Gophers stood around and basically watched Garcia dominate without giving him much support. Earlier losses to Ohio State and Iowa came to mind, when he scored 36 and 30 points, respectively.
That wasn't the case Sunday. Garcia was on pace for another 30-point effort with his big first half, but the Gophers were 8-for-12 from three-point range and held the Hawkeyes to 39% shooting from the field.
In the second half, Garcia's absence meant scoring would definitely be more difficult. In the past, though, the Gophers relied on their defense to carry the load. This time it failed them miserably.
Iowa ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring at 84.2 points per game. The Hawkeyes efficiently picked apart the Gophers in the second half Sunday, inside and out. They scored 24 of their 44 points in the paint and shot 59% from the field after halftime. They shot 15-for-17 from the foul line after halftime.
The Gophers were overmatched in size, athleticism, and length against 6-7 Payton Sandfort and 6-9 Patrick McCaffery, 6-4 Tony Perkins on the perimeter and 6-11 Owen Freeman inside.
"We couldn't get a stop," Johnson said. "They just owned the paint. For the second half, they only made three threes. It wasn't like they were bombing threes. They were just living in the paint off the post touch and off the drive. We couldn't keep them off the line. We lost that defensive edge."
Hawkins has been one of the top point guards in the Big Ten, but he struggled defensively against Iowa's bigger guards Sunday. The 5-11 junior ended up fouling out without getting into much of an offensive rhythm after going 1-for-6 from the field in 23 minutes. Quality shots were hard to find for Hawkins, but he did have six assists and five rebounds. Helping in a big way at point guard was Mike Mitchell Jr., who had 17 points with five threes, four assists and two steals in 33 minutes.
Arguably even tougher to overcome was the lack of Payne's inside presence. The 6-9 sophomore looked ready early to be a physical nightmare for Iowa in the paint, but it all changed once he picked up two fouls in the first half.
Going to Payne in the post would have been ideal for the Gophers. He never seemed to get comfortable offensively after sitting for long stretches. Absent was his rim protection, as he tried not to draw any more foul calls as well. He finished with five points and six rebounds in 21 minutes. Payne's 1-for-6 foul shooting all came in the second half when points were hard to come by during Iowa's run.
How could there be much of a silver lining when the Gophers blew a 20-point lead in Sunday's loss?
The play of Braeden Carrington and Parker Fox off the bench can be something to build on with eight regular-season games left. Carrington and Fox combined for 28 points on 10-for-22 shooting.
Carrington had 11 of his season-high 18 points in the first half with three three-pointers that he felt were a long time coming. He entered Sunday shooting 17% from beyond the arc (9-for-53), including 2-for-18 in the past seven games.
Known primarily for his perimeter defense, the 6-4 sophomore from Park Center made up for an off night scoring from Hawkins. He's averaging 5.5 points and hadn't scored in double figures since Dec. 6 vs. Nebraska.
"It hadn't been going in, but I was just going to keep shooting," Carrington said. "That's what I know I can do."
Fox had been an emotional leader and energy spark for the Gophers in the Big Ten. That didn't change Sunday with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. The 6-8 senior also fouled out, though, trying to battle as an undersized big man.
The Gophers are deeper than last season, but they haven't found consistent minutes for former starter Joshua Ola-Joseph, who went scoreless Sunday in his second consecutive game and played only six minutes. He has scored one point on 0-for-4 shooting from the field in 21 minutes combined in his past three games off the bench. He was averaging just under 11 points and started 42 consecutive games before a role change.
Christie on the rise
Name a freshman guard in the country with more upside than the Gophers' Cam Christie has shown recently in Big Ten play. That might be tough to find.
Christie's definitely made himself a strong candidate for Big Ten freshman of the year honors with Iowa's Owen Freeman, who is also a former four-star recruit from Illinois.
On Sunday, the 6-6 Christie gave Hawkeyes fans chills when he drove baseline and threw down an emphatic one-handed spike slam to give the Gophers a 66-47 lead with 14:20 remaining in the second half. He scored 10 of his 15 points in the period, but the Garcia injury was too much for the entire team to overcome.
In the past four games, Christie has scored in double figures and averaged 16.5 points on 44% shooting on three-pointers, six rebounds and three assists. He leads all Big Ten freshman with 11.3 points and 41.2% shooting from long distance this season.