Gophers beat Kangaroos 71-56 in season opener

Nov. 9, 2021: In Ben Johnson’s head coaching debut, the Golden Gophers played a clean game of basketball taking down UMKC 71-56 in their 2021-22 season opener.

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Full Game Recap:

  • First Half: It was a bit of a slow start for the Gophers out of the gate, but senior guard Payton Willis found some success with 5 quick points and Minnesota lead 7-4 heading into the first media timeout. Willis continued to control the pace with a team-high 8 points midway through the half. His teammates followed and Minnesota was consistently knocking down shots, shooting 9-16 (56.3%) from the field and 3-6 (50%) from beyond the arc heading into the under-8 media timeout. Ultimately, Minnesota put together a very clean first half of basketball. Only committing 3 turnovers, trailing 5-13 in the final department it was very refreshing to watch. Willis and Jamison Battle led the team with 8 points and took a 33-25 lead into the half.

  • Second Half: It was another slow start out of the locker room for the Gophers, but they settled in. Battle began to heat up with 8 quick points, but that was about all there was. UMKC cut the lead all the way down to 50-46 about midway through the half. Early foul trouble from E.J. Stephens really tested Minnesota’s depth. While Battle was heating up, Willis disappeared — stuck at 8 points for what seemed like forever, further testing the Gophers’ shallow depth. Depth only became more of a question, as Jamison Battle picked up his fourth foul with about 8 minutes to go, putting Ben Johnson in a serious pickle in his first game as HC. After making a surprise substitution bringing in walk-on sophomore guard Will Ramberg. It seemed to be the sparkplug, the Gophers needed, going on a 12-0 run and regaining a 14 points lead. They never looked back winning 71-56.

Instant Reaction & Takeaways:

I am very pleased with what we saw from Ben Johnson’s Gophers in his coaching debut. UMKC ranks as the No. 247 team in the NCAA according to, so you obviously have to take this result with a grain of salt, but we learned a lot. Johnson likes to push the pace and shoot threes. A 46.2% night from the field and 36.4% from three is nothing to write home about, but it certainly was a breath of fresh air after what we went through last season. Jamison Battle has established himself as the clear No. 1 offensive option of this team with 18 points and probably would’ve been a lot more if it weren’t for his foul trouble.

As for the No. 2 option and No. 3 option, that will be what makes or breaks this team. Payton Willis is the most logical response for No. 2, but after being stuck on 8 points for much of the game, his facilitating and leadership will often be his top asset. E.J. Stephens came up big when it mattered most with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Depth will certainly not be a strong suite of this team, as four of the starters played at least 33 minutes and only seven players played more than four. But if they can consistently get 11 points off the bench like they did tonight from Sean Sutherlin and Charlie Daniels it will be a much easier pill to swallow. Overall, it was very refreshing to see a clean 40 minutes of basketball. The Gophers clearly faced adversity as it looked like the Kangaroos were going to get back into the game midway through the second half, but Johnson and co. righted the ship and sailed to a double-digit victory.

What is Next?:

Next on the schedule is an early season tournament for the Gophers in Asheville, North Carolina. They will join Western Kentucky, South Carolina and Princeton in a four team, three day tournament. They will open on Friday, Nov. 12 against the Hilltopers and then take on either South Carolina or Princeton on Sunday, Nov. 14. It will be a solid test against two top 90 teams (WKU and South Carolina) and Princeton who ranks No. 164.

There is obviously a long way to go in what should be a long season, but this results was certainly a step in the right direction.

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