MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - It’s not quite the middle of January, and the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team has already eclipsed both its season and Big Ten win totals from last season.
On Sunday, the Gophers rallied for a 65-62 win over Maryland at Williams Arena after trailing 29-22 at the half. They fed off the home crowd, which got loud in the game’s key moments in the second half. That’s after a 73-71 win at Michigan on Jan. 4.
Ben Johnson has not been shy about promoting his team. He’s gone on social media asking fans to pack The Barn, even giving away tickets. The Gophers might be on the verge of something bigger this season, but it can only happen if the fan base buys in.
"I always want to win so it doesn’t necessarily change for us. I do hope externally people like what they see and they come out and support. I’m like a broken record, it makes a difference," Johnson told reporters on Wednesday. "You watch the Rutgers game (against Indiana), nobody wants to go to the RAC and play them. Nobody wants to go to Nebraska and play Nebraska. I’ve lived that first-hand, so for our fans to understand that they do make a huge difference. It’s obvious in league when you watch these games, environment matters."
Johnson referenced Rutgers, which beat Indiana Tuesday night, as the Hoosiers will host the Gophers Friday night at Assembly Hall. It will probably be Minnesota’s most hostile road environment so far this season. Nebraska knocked off No. 1-ranked Purdue Tuesday night.
Minnesota is 12-3 on the season, 3-1 in Big Ten play and making noise early in the league season, currently on a seven-game win streak. They’re largely doing it with in-state talent. Prior Lake native Dawson Garcia is the leading scorer and rebounder, former Park Cottage Grove star Pharrel Payne is a problem for opponents inside off the bench. Former Osseo standout Joshua Ola-Joseph is among the team’s most improved players, and former Park Center star Braeden Carrington is setting the defensive standard since his return to the team.
A now healthy Parker Fox out of Mahtomedi is instant energy in the limited minutes he gets. Johnson also has Minnesotans Grayson Grove and Isaac Asuma coming next year. All the better if Johnson and the Gophers can continue to be competitive in the Big Ten with local talent.
"Our league traditionally, when you have really good in-state talent, it helps. When we’re a really good team, you have that year or a couple years of really good in-state talent that hopefully you’re able to keep home. Recruiting is so hard, if you have an advantage of being able to go 20 minutes or an hour, two hours to get a really good kid and you’re able to do that, that helps your program," Johnson said. "Our program is always going to recruit the state hard and figure out the best fit for us."
Regardless of Friday’s result at Indiana, Williams Arena should be close a full house when Iowa comes to town on Martin Luther King Day.