The Gophers men's basketball team got tested against Division III Macalester in Thursday night's exhibition, but it had to play without Pharrel Payne and Cam Christie, two top young players.
Payne, a 6-9 sophomore, was projected to be the starting center this season for the Gophers. Christie, a 6-6 freshman, was the team's top incoming recruit.
Gophers coach Ben Johnson expects both players to play a big role this season, so their absence likely made a difference before pulling away in a 97-73 win against the Scots at Williams Arena.
Christie had been out sick with mononucleosis for a week last month when he missed the U's closed scrimmage at Colorado State on Oct. 21. Payne has an undisclosed minor injury.
"Cam is going to be back, so we'll slowly work him back into the mix," Johnson said. "Pharrel, I'm hoping he's back on Monday. It's nothing serious. It's a decision I made today [as] more precautionary."
Joshua Ola-Joseph led five U players in double figures with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Dawson Garcia, an All-Big Ten preseason forward, also had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Gophers, who trailed 17-9 to open the game.
Macalester, getting 41 points on 31 shots from Caleb Williams, played the Gophers for the first time since 1922, before Williams Arena opened.
The Gophers open the regular season Monday night against Bethune-Cookman at Williams Arena, but Thursday's exhibition was a chance for fans to see several newcomers and veterans Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen back from knee injuries.
Here are four key observations from the Gophers' exhibition Thursday:
Need for speed
Johnson talked about playing more up-tempo this season — and it made a difference with the 52 points in the paint and 24 fast-break points. Ola-Joseph had four of the team's 10 dunks. Newcomers Mike Mitchell Jr. and Elijah Hawkins (each had nine assists) combined for eight of the team's 15 assists (32 for the game) in the first half with only one turnover. Once Christie is inserted into the rotation, this might be the fastest team for the Gophers since early in the Richard Pitino era.
Perimeter defense problem?
Minnesota's starting backcourt of Hawkins and Braeden Carrington took turns defending Macalester's Williams early, but they were in for a rough first half. Carrington's effort was there. But Williams, the MIAC's leading returning scorer, exploded for 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting by halftime, including four threes. This will be a learning experience for the Gophers, who open Monday vs. Bethune-Cookman's Zion Harmon, the Southwestern Athletic Conference freshman of the year.
Sign up for our Gophers Update newsletterHawkins heats up
Hawkins seemed to take it personal when his lead guard counterpart torched the Gophers. The Howard transfer was the fastest player on the floor. He flew down court in the blink of an eye. But he also got his shot off quickly, finishing with 17 points and hitting 4-for-6 shots from three. The Gophers had five different players sink shots from beyond the arc, including Mitchell with a pair from deep.
Garcia's frontcourt help
To open the second half, Garcia set the tone with an early dunk and three-pointer. By the seven-minute mark, the 6-11 junior slammed another basket for a 27-point advantage. How Payne fits into the mix in the frontcourt once he returns from injury will be key. Willson, a 6-11, 290-pound Washington State transfer, had limited action off the bench. But Fox had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes. Ihnen finished with five points in 12 minutes.