Ben Johnson after Gophers latest blowout loss: ‘This isn’t fun for anybody’
MINNEAPOLIS - Ben Johnson was equal parts accountable and frustrated Saturday night, speaking to reporters after another blowout loss for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team.
The Gophers were never really competitive in an 81-46 loss to Maryland at Williams Arena. They’ve lost seven straight games, are 7-15 on the season and just 1-11 in Big Ten play. That’s after a 90-55 loss at Rutgers, and an 81-61 loss at Northwestern. Saturday’s loss was among the most lopsided at home in the history of the program.
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Not coincidentally, the tough times have come with a roster depleted by injuries. Dawson Garcia has missed four straight games with a bone bruise in his right foot. Braeden Carrington remains out with a leg injury, and Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen were lost before the season to knee injuries. To complicate things even further, Jamison Battle and Pharrel Payne are playing through injuries.
So what’s Johnson’s message to his team and fans during a tough winter in Dinkytown? Stay patient.
"My message to them and really everybody is don’t blame our guys. I think they’re giving everything they have. People want to be frustrated, take that out on me. Let me feel the brunt of that, I’ve got big shoulders, I’m good for that," Johnson said. "That’s part of the job, it’s not on these guys. We talked about perspective and having perspective."
The perspective is that with seven scholarship players available, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Payne, Joshua Ola-Joseph and Jaden Henley, all freshmen, are playing 30-plus minutes a night and taking on bigger roles than they were probably ready for or capable of.
It will get better, but how much of the current roster will stick around for the future to make that happen? Johnson’s biggest offseason task might be re-recruiting current players to stick around.
Johnson was an assistant under Richard Pitino in 2016 when the Gophers went 2-18 in Big Ten play. They went to the NCAA Tournament the following year. He played on the 2003-04 team that went 3-13 in league play.
"I don’t want them to ever lose that focus and that perspective of let’s call a spade a spade sometimes and make sure these guys understand. There’s going to be brighter days, this isn’t fun for anybody. Let me take all the hate, all the burden, all the whatever," Johnson said. "But they need to understand what they’re being asked to do right now because of circumstance isn’t normal. I think, people can argue with me, they’re getting better. We’ve got to look at it from that standpoint in these last however many games we have left, continue to fight, but continue to try to get better. It kind of is what it is right now, so we’ve got to dig deep and get through the suck."
As bleak as it might look right now, brighter days should be ahead. Dennis Evans, one of the top centers in the country, will be a freshman for the Gophers next season. He has another top-100 player in Cam Christie coming, and the hope is that at least one of Battle and Garcia returns, if not both.
The Gophers are off until Sunday, when they host Iowa.