Cherry star PG Isaac Asuma pledges to Gophers, Ben Johnson for 2024 class

Ben Johnson was introduced Tuesday as the newest coach for the University of Minnesota men's basketball program.

In what was otherwise a tough day for the University of Minnesota athletic department, men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson had a couple of reasons to smile Thursday night.

Jamison Battle hit a 3-pointer as time expired as the Gophers knocked off Rutgers 75-74 at Williams Arena. It was Minnesota’s first home Big Ten win this season, first home conference win since Feb. 19, 2021 and ended a 12-game losing streak.

Not long after, Johnson secured a backcourt player for the future. Cherry point guard Isaac Asuma, the No. 2 overall player in Minnesota for the 2024 class, gave his verbal commitment to Johnson and the Gophers after his Cherry squad played Rock Ridge Thursday night. With his teammates and the Mountain Iron community watching, Asuma took the microphone and unzipped his jacket to reveal a Minnesota T-shirt.

"Staying home," the 6-3, 185-pound guard posted to his Instagram Thursday night.

Asuma picked the Gophers over Iowa State, Nebraska, Iowa, Xavier and Butler. As a sophomore last year, Asuma averaged 27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game to lead Cherry to its first state tournament since 1997.

This year, he’s averaging 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game. He had a triple-double of 22 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Rock Ridge Thursday.

Asuma’s commitment is positive news for Johnson, after 5-star center Dennis Evans asked for and was granted a release from his National Letter of Intent late last week for next season. Getting Evans to sign last November took the sting off losing Lakeville North star Nolan Winter to Wisconsin.

Thursday started with Lindsay Whalen stepping down from the Gophers after five seasons, including an 11-19 record this year. But it ended positively, with Battle's heroics and Asuma's announcement. One of the first to text Johnson after the win? Whalen.

Johnson’s top priority since being hired has been keeping the top in-state talent home. Battle, a Robbinsdale native, was his first commitment. He got Prior Lake star Dawson Garcia to return home, and his first full recruiting class this year features Park Center’s Braeden Carrington, Park Cottage Grove’s Pharrel Payne and Osseo’s Joshua Ola-Joseph.