Gophers men’s basketball coach understands pains of current losing streak: Been there, done that
Ben Johnson has experienced winless droughts both as a player and assistant coach with the Gophers
Ben Johnson is not only sympathetic but empathetic to what Gophers men’s basketball players are going through right now.
As a senior guard in 2003-04, Johnson and Minnesota suffered an eight-game losing streak to finish 3-13 in Big Ten play.
Then as assistant coach at his alma mater, Johnson endured a 14-game skid and a 2-16 conference record in 2015-16, followed by a nine-game lull that resulted in a 4-14 league record in 2017-18.
“I know exactly what they are feeling,” the second-year head coach said after Minnesota dropped its seventh straight game to fall to 1-11 in the Big Ten with Saturday’s 81-46 loss to Maryland at Williams Arena.
At 35 points, it was the Gophers' biggest home Big Ten loss in program history, and Johnson was on the bench next to Richard Pitino for the previous record, a 34-point loss to Purdue in 2018.
But Minnesota won’t be able to end its losing skid on Tuesday. Its scheduled game at Illinois has been postponed due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Gophers’ program, the school said Monday. The Gophers' next game is scheduled for noon Sunday against Iowa at Williams Arena.
“Any time you can be on the same level as somebody, whether they are going through ups and downs, I think is a positive thing,” Johnson said Monday. “… I think that does help guys understand when I’m telling them how to fix it, I’m coming from a place of first-hand knowledge. I’m not just blowing smoke.”
The biggest boost would be Dawson Garcia (foot) returning from a four-game absence. Johnson said Garcia’s availability is “50-50” but also pointed out Minnesota has some extra time to allow Garcia’s bone bruise to heal since their next game isn’t until Sunday.
Reserve guard Braeden Carrington (leg) did not wear a protective boot on the sideline for the Terrapins game, a sign of progress. But the freshman is less than three weeks into an estimated month-long absence.
“The hardest part is we can’t speed up injuries,” Johnson said, including season-long knee injuries to Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen.
Johnson wants to remind his team they have been close, including in losses to Indiana, Michigan and into the second half of a 78-60 defeat to Illinois on Jan. 16. They got their only Big Ten win, 70-67, at Ohio State on Jan. 12.
When Gophers players watched film of the Illini game, Johnson kept pointing out “time and score” to emphasize they were competitive for a big portion of that game.
The Gophers need one more win in their final eight conference games to avoid the worst Big Ten winning percentage in program history.
As Johnson tries to put that together, he is looking to add perspective to the situation, primarily how three true freshmen are playing big minutes and contributing in big ways. That’s uncommon at the high-major level.
“I don’t want them to lose that focus and perspective of let’s call a spade a spade sometimes,” Johnson said. “And make sure these guys understand there is going to be brighter days.”
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