Gophers freshman Treyton Thompson was the only available player not to see the floor in the first half Sunday, but he kept cheering on his teammates from the bench when Iowa was controlling the game.
The Gophers eventually lost 81-71 against the Hawkeyes, but Thompson finally got his opportunity to prove that he could help Ben Johnson's team, especially shorthanded.
Thompson, a 7-footer from Glenwood, Minn., finished with a career-high eight points on 3-for-3 field goals in 11 minutes.
"He represents Minnesota as a whole and plays with Minnesota on his chest just because he loves the state," said sophomore Jamison Battle, a DeLaSalle product. "He was always ready and always wanted to have that opportunity."
Four players were sidelined Sunday due to injuries, illness and COVID-19 protocols, including starting center Eric Curry with a sprained ankle. So the Gophers were desperate for a spark off the bench.
Only eight players, including seven on scholarship, were available to play against the Hawkeyes. But Thompson only got his first chance to play with the Gophers trailing 63-42 with 11:11 left in the second half.
Thompson, who is slightly built at 210 pounds, entered the game initially as a forward playing alongside 6-9, 230-pound senior Charlie Daniels, who replaced Curry as the starting center.
Daniels wasn't as effective in the zone defense, so the Gophers eventually slid Thompson over to center. The former Alexandria (Minn.) and LaLumiere School (Ind.) big man scored his first career field goal on a three-point play with 9:25 to play.
Battle nailed three three-pointers before Thompson scored again to cut it to 72-65 with 3:52 remaining, and a 31-11 run eventually made it a three-point game.
Thompson has been playing with the Gophers scout team more lately, which allowed him to gain confidence with more game-like reps, Johnson said.
"He's done a good job I would say in the last month of just being determined in practice," he said. "He hasn't pouted. He's worked even harder to be honest. I told him about two to three weeks ago it's going to pay off. I don't know when."
Curry watched anxiously in street clothes from the bench Sunday against Iowa, but there's still no timetable for when he can make a full recovery from the left ankle injury.
"He's been better every day, and that's the good part," Johnson said. "I know he wants to play. It's killing him to not be out there. I just want to make sure he's good when he goes."
Johnson said Curry wants to play when the Gophers travel to play Wednesday at Penn State, but he won't let him play if "he can't go up to the level to help us win."