Minnesota packs early lessons to face WKU in Asheville

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The Minnesota men's basketball team discovered something about new head coach Ben Johnson following Tuesday's season-opening win against Missouri-Kansas City.

What you see with Johnson is what you get.

"He was very even keel," Golden Gophers guard E.J. Stephens said. "Winning or losing, he's going to remain the same. That is one thing I love about him. He's always composed. Even his first home game as a head coach, composed the whole game."

Minnesota will hope that comportment travels well Friday as the team faces Western Kentucky in the inaugural Asheville Championship in North Carolina.

Western Kentucky displayed moxie of its own Tuesday, rallying from a 14-point, first-half hole to defeat visiting Alabama State 79-74 to begin the season.

A quartet of double-figure scorers paced the Hilltoppers. Jairus Hamilton led the way with 21 points, while Dayvion McKnight (19), Josh Anderson (12) and Jaylen Butz (12) followed.

Hamilton said the narrow victory "helps us a lot, helps us really understand how we have to come out more aggressive and not be so lackadaisical.

"It also lets us know how to execute and how to really lock in and get a win when things are not going our way."

The Golden Gophers can attest.

After seizing early control, Minnesota relinquished most of it late in the second half, allowing a 17-8 run that brought the Kangaroos within 54-52 with 7:42 to play.

Over the next 3:58, Stephens and Luke Loewe combined to score the next 10 points to re-establish breathing room en route to a 71-56 victory.

Jamison Battle had 18 points for Minnesota, with Stephens and Payton Willis chipping in 13 apiece.

"If you want to be a good team and you want to win games, you have to find different ways to win," Johnson said. "And you've got to find different ways to recapture the momentum. So hats off to our guys. They found a way to get it done in a big way."

--Field Level Media