Hours after being asked about the abrupt resignation of Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen, U athletic director Mark Coyle took his usual seat a few rows behind the bench for the basketball game Thursday’s men’s ball at Williams Arena.
Coyle, a home game regular, has listened to postgame press conferences all season as Gophers second-year coach Ben Johnson spoke about the injuries and inexperience that contributed to the U’s longest losing streak in seven years.
The Gophers could have given up with 10 points remaining with just over a minute to play, but they ended their 12-game slide with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Jamison Battle in a 75-win win. 74 on Rutgers to the barn.
“It was a (tough) day,” Coyle said after the game. “But a great win.”
The Gophers (8-20, 2-16 Big Ten) saw Battle score 15 of his 20 second-half points on 5-on-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Three of his six three-point shots came in the final 22 seconds, including one that secured the team’s first Big Ten home win this season.
“Life sometimes isn’t always fair,” Johnson said. “But that doesn’t mean you can quit. … It’s an example for all of our guys that they had to keep showing up. If you keep showing up, you never know what can happen.”
After Caleb McConnell’s missed free throw with five seconds left, Ta’Lon Cooper rolled the ball on the floor before picking it up to start the clock for one final play. Cooper drove the lane and sent the ball to Battle . The junior forward stepped back to free himself from Rutgers’ Cam Spencer before nailing the clutch jumper.
Officials spent more than 10 minutes after time expired trying to determine if Cooper’s leg had touched the ball that would have started the clock early. Fans erupted when the waiting game was over. Good bucket.
“It was something you dreamed of,” Battle said. “I think it’s just consistent with all the work that we’ve done, that I’ve done. It’s just a reward for that work. It feels good.”
The Gophers team that suffered a 90-55 loss on Feb. 1 in Piscataway, NJ, was very different from the one that showed up on Thursday. Fans saw a glimpse of the team’s potential.
The first highlight of the night came when Dawson Garcia connected with Pharrel Payne for a first-half alley-oop dunk. Garcia and Payne, who combined for 34 points and 17 rebounds, looked like Johnson’s frontcourt of the future, especially with star rookie Dennis Evans recently released from his letter of intent.
“We show up every day, we fight every day,” Garcia said. “To see it pay off live is a great feeling. We’re going to feel it a lot more.”
In the second half, Rutgers beat the Gophers 10-3 to take a 50-36 lead on a reverse layup from Cliff Omoruyi, who finished with a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. The Gophers gave up 17 second-chance points on 15 offensive boards.
With three minutes remaining, Braeden Carrington limped off after Omoruyi dived following another attacking tip from the Scarlet Knights. He watched from the bench as his teammates continued to fight.
Whalen texted Johnson after the game congratulating him on his last-second victory. “She showed up to work every day,” Johnson said. “He’s one of the most positive people.”