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Gophers' Johnson saw firsthand how Nebraska built home-court advantage

LINCOLN, NEB. — Gophers coach Ben Johnson remembers when Nebraska didn't have much of a homecourt advantage but started to build it into what exists today. Now Pinnacle Bank Arena is one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten.

"I just remember my first year there, [then-coach Tim] Miles wanted it to be a party," said Johnson, whose Gophers played Sunday night at Nebraska. "He wanted it to be Mardi Gras. He wanted it to be chaotic. That was kind of his vision because that was a little bit of his personality."

Johnson's first season coaching at the major conference level was on Miles' staff as a Cornhuskers assistant in 2012-13. Nebraska finished 15-18, but the Cornhuskers won four of their last six home games at Bob Devaney Sports Center.

Nebraska's only two home losses during that stretch were against No. 8 Michigan State and No. 11 Ohio State by single digits. The final game at the Huskers' old arena was a 55-53 win against the Gophers in front of an announced crowd of 13,194.

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Johnson only spent one year in Lincoln, but he saw that excitement for home games carry over to the following season when Pinnacle Bank Arena opened in 2013. The Huskers went 15-1 at home and reached the NCAA tournament that season. Years later, Nebraska fans still pack Pinnacle Bank Arena under coach Fred Hoiberg, who arrived in 2019.

"They created that branding when he was there and stuck with it," Johnson said. "It feels like a party in there. You've got the music. There's confetti. Everything they do with the lights. It's a totally different vibe than a lot of campus arenas. They've owned it. It's an environment that gets rocking."

The Huskers entered Sunday's game against the Gophers with a 16-1 record at home this season, including 8-0 in the Big Ten. Their only loss in Lincoln was to rival Creighton.

"They have an unbelievable homecourt advantage," Johnson said. "They've just done a great job holding court at home and playing up to the crowd and energy they provide there."