‘Hurting’ Gophers men’s basketball team looks to rebound from painful loss at Iowa

The Gophers men’s basketball team was in mourning during its long bus ride from Iowa City to Minneapolis on Sunday.

Losing a 20-point lead in a 90-85 loss to Iowa had that effect on Minnesota players.

“They were hurting,” head coach Ben Johnson said Wednesday. “It was a crazy quiet bus ride. I could tell by that response that they they knew that we definitely let one slip away.”

The Gophers (15-8, 6-6 Big Ten) can’t feel sorry for themselves for long, with Zach Edey and No. 2 Purdue (22-2, 11-2) up next at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

“The response has been focused. It has been energy. It’s been a determination,” Johnson said. “Now their mindset is, alright, we’ve got to make up for it. We know how hard it is to win on the road, but we are a selfish, greedy team. … We are going to get one on the road at some point and we are going to make up for the one that we had (versus the Hawkeyes).”

The first-place Boilermakers will be big favorites, especially if Gophers forward Dawson Garcia (midsection) can’t play. The U’s best player is a game-time decision, Johnson said, after he was hit below the waist in the second half against the Hawkeyes. In pain, he tried to continue but exited with 15 minutes left in the game and did not return. That’s when the lead crumbled.

“If he can’t go (Thursday), we’ve got to find a better way to respond, whether that is go big or whether that is go small” with our lineup, Johnson said. “We have to be mindful of our response and mentality regardless of who is playing.”

The already tall task of defending 7-foot-4 Edey will be taller if Garcia can’t play. Six-foot-9 center Pharrel Payne will be the Gophers’ primary defender, with bruising 6-foot-11 backup Jack Wilson a candidate to play more.

Before the Iowa loss, Johnson met with Josh Ola-Joseph and Isaiah Ihnen about the two reserves staying engaged when playing time has become minimal.

“We are going to need them,” Johnson said Friday. “I don’t know when it’s going to be, but we are going to need them. To get them to still have that attitude that they have is more of a credit to them and who they are, the fact that they want to play for the guy next to them and winning matters to them.”

Ola-Joseph has played less than nine minutes in four of the past five games. Ihnen has played less than seven minutes in each of the past four contests.

The lack of recent playing time is more stark for Ola-Joseph, who started the opening 18 games of the season.

“Some of it has been matchups,” Johnson said of Ola-Joseph playing less as Payne and Garcia have become the primary front court duo.

When Payne’s back injury flared up and he sat out against Penn State on Jan. 27, Ola-Joseph started and contributed 14 points and five rebounds in the road win over the Nittany Lions.

That big contribution made for a more pleasant trip back to Minnesota.

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