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A surprise loss for Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson came Thursday with sophomore big man Pharrel Payne officially entering the transfer portal. Within a few hours, sophomore Braeden Carrington and junior forward Isaiah Ihnen entered the portal, too.

Payne, a 6-9 Cottage Grove native, averaged 10 points, 6.1 rebounds and a team-best 1.4 blocks this season for the Gophers, who made a 10-win improvement in Johnson's third season.

Carrington, a 6-4 guard who was Minnesota Mr. Basketball at Park Center, took a break starting in December to address his mental health. He returned and averaged 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds while playing a role as the team's top perimeter defender.

On Wednesday, Gophers sophomore forward Joshua Ola-Joseph was the first to enter the transfer portal. Ola-Joseph, Payne and Carrington were members of the U's 2022 recruiting class.

Ihnen, who missed two straight years with knee injuries, averaged 3.4 points in 11.1 minutes per game this season.

Progress this season for the Gophers wasn't enough to keep many of them invested in the program. Players talked to Johnson about their intent to transfer during meetings this week. The opportunity for more lucrative name, image and likeness opportunities was likely a factor in some of their decisions.

The Gophers (19-15) ended their season last Sunday with a 76-64 loss at Indiana State in the NIT second round. Payne finished with a team-best 16 points and eight rebounds in his last game. Carrington had two points in 25 minutes off the bench.

After the Big Ten tournament loss at Michigan State, Payne and Carrington both talked about their excitement over the Gophers' potential next season if most of the core players returned.

"I think it's important to keep the group together, so we can keep building on it," Payne told the Star Tribune at Target Center. "Imagine what we could do if we keep the group together for next year."

Carrington previously on the Gophers' potential: "I feel like if you keep us together, we're a top four team in the league. And we could possibly break into the top 25."

Starting point guard Elijah Hawkins said he would be back, but leading scorer Dawson Garcia and all-league freshman Cam Christie were among the players uncertain about their future. Since the end of the season, starting guard Mike Mitchell Jr.'s return is in limbo as well.

The Gophers are expected to have redshirt freshman Kadyn Betts back and possibly senior Parker Fox. But Payne's likely transfer leaves a big hole in the middle. The Gophers are hosting North Dakota State center Andrew Morgan on Thursday. They also add Alexandria high school senior Grayson Grove in the 2024 recruiting class.

The Big Ten had 10 of its 14 teams suffer losses to the transfer portal as of Thursday afternoon, including nine teams with at least three departures. Rutgers (6), Penn State (5), Michigan (4) and Nebraska (4) also had at least four players in the portal. Wisconsin's A.J. Storr, Iowa's Tony Perkins and Rutgers' Cliff Omoruyi were among the all-league players transferring.