SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. – About a hundred Gophers fans roared behind the team's bench as the buzzer sounded after Dawson Garcia's game-winning shot in the waning seconds of Monday night's thrilling 62-61 overtime win against California Baptist to open the SoCal Challenge.
The early momentum was one-sided in favor of a Big Ten team making its first road trip after Ben Johnson's team jumped out to a 15-0 lead, but it was how the Gophers responded after falling behind that made the difference in the end.
"We did an unbelievable job for about 95% of that game with being competitors," Johnson said. "Sometimes you got to win ugly and be OK with that. I thought we won with our defense. I thought we played through adversity multiple times. For a new crew they showed a ton of heart and a ton of fight."
Pharrel Payne had a career-high 15 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes. Jamison Battle scored 11 points making his season debut coming off foot surgery. But Garcia's late basket kept the Gophers (4-1) from being the latest Power Five school to lose to the Lancers (3-2).
The Gophers, who saw a 13-point lead in the second half evaporate, trailed 61-58 with under two minutes left in overtime, but Payne slammed the ball to pull his team within a point.
After a key defensive stop on Cal Baptist's leading scorer Taran Armstrong, the Gophers let Garcia go to work in the post. He dribbled hard into the lane and powered up a jump hook for his 10th point with five seconds left for the game-deciding basket.
"A lot of adversity came our way this game, but we stuck with it and kept coming," Garcia said. "The results are a win and now we get to play for a championship. My team trusted in me."
At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday the Gophers play UNLV, which defeated Southern Illinois 56-49 in the late game.
A Division II program in 2017-18, the Lancers (3-2) defeated their first Pac-12 opponent in team history last week against Washington, but they weren't finished trying to take down another Power Five foe.
Payne's clutch rebounding made the difference all night. Freshman Jaden Henley's pull-up jumper started a 5-0 run for the Gophers to take a 53-48 advantage with 1:55 left in regulation, but they wouldn't score again.
Cal Baptist used a 22-9 run to tie the game 53-53 behind Armstrong, who scored all of his 24 points in the second half and overtime.
The Gophers, who won the rebounding battle 40-35, had their top recruit and California native Dennis Evans III watching from the crowd with an entire Minnesota section at J. Serra High School.
Battle, who finished 4-for-15 from the field, was proud of the way his Gophers teammates had the confidence to answer with plays in overtime after a tough end to regulation.
"Dawson had foul trouble the whole game," Battle said. "For him to come in and be settled in that moment and make that basket for us it just shows everyone's trust in each other. That's one thing for me coming back I knew was going to be seamless."