Patrick Reusse
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The Gophers men's basketball team could be described as being "shorthanded" even if there was an occasion when it was at full strength.

The "shorthanded" became real Wednesday, when both Dawson Garcia, the two-time transfer, and freshman Pharrel Payne, a muscular big man, were ruled out for the home game against Indiana.

This came on top of Braeden Carrington, making progress as a freshman guard, who was lost for the season a week earlier with a stress reaction in a leg.

The absence of both Garcia and Payne led to the unusual sight of sophomore Treyton Thompson, the anything-but-muscular 7-footer, assuming an ironman role to help battle against the Hoosiers' Trayce Jackson-Davis, perhaps the best inside player in the country.

And yet there it was, one of those moments of late hope for coach Ben Johnson's underdogs: A 57-56 lead, a missed layup by Indiana, and Thompson taking down the rebound with 1:18 remaining.

The loyalists that half-filled Williams Arena were extremely loud at this moment.

The Hoosiers committed a foul on the offensive end and they were not yet in penalty. The ball was inbounded, wound up with Thompson behind the three-point line and 20 seconds (or so) on the shot clock.

He fired immediately. He missed. Indiana rebounded, The Hoosiers scored the remaining five points, avoiding an embarrassing defeat (61-57) to the Big Ten's one-win, last-place team.

Thompson's missed three was one of 11 consecutive missed field goals for the Gophers to finish the game. But a 7-footer throwing up a quick three-pointer, not taking a moment to check the coverage on Jamison Battle … well, the timing didn't seem optimal.

What struck me was Johnson's reaction on the sideline. A look that said, "Well … shucks."

Which caused me to ask Johnson on Friday afternoon, before his Gophers headed for Northwestern, this question:

"How did you not flip out when Thompson fired that three-pointer with that much time on the shot clock?"

Johnson's response:

"I might have, if I hadn't seen that young man in Williams Arena at 6 a.m. for the past two years and make that shot 500 times. In a perfect world, you might want to make a couple of passes, but no one was going to be more wide open.

"Trey's teammates know he can make that shot, and if he does, that's probably ballgame for us."

The painful missed opportunity at midweek was followed by Saturday's 81-61 blowout loss at Northwestern. The game tipped at 11 a.m. and it was over about 15 minutes later in actual time.

This is an uncommonly good and experienced collection of Wildcats, and the Gophers are where they belong in the conference:

Last at 1-9, and now 5-25 in Johnson's two Big Ten regular seasons.

Yet I continue to admire Johnson's lack of antics, lack of ref-baiting, lack of self-pity, for this reason:

He's up against it more than any coach in Gophers modern history, even Clem Haskins when he took over with a grievously depleted roster in 1986.

Johnson's inheritance was worse than that in 2021: Eric Curry, talked out of becoming a grad assistant to be the starting center, basically was it.

Everyone scattered in the transfer portal, including Marcus Carr, somehow still playing at Texas, and Jamal Mashburn Jr., who followed Richard Pitino to New Mexico.

The Lobos are 19-3 due to Mashburn and three other excellent transfers, and Richard's a hero in Albuquerque. The act's the same, though; most recently trying to charge the officials when they made the right call against his team in an two-overtime loss at Nevada.

He is in the Mountain West, and in a place where Lobos basketball can be king. The challenge isn't close to one that Pitino failed in Minnesota — not close to the sunken ship left for Johnson.

"When talking with [athletic director] Mark Coyle, I said, 'Judge me in Year 4,' " Johnson said. "We had to put together a roster as best we could last season, but I also said, 'We will have to do a reset in Year 2; with our recruits,' and this is it.

"The goal is to build something sustainable, a team that can be a factor in the Big Ten annually — or close to annually. We haven't had that here for a long time."

The league will be 16 deep and tougher with Southern California and UCLA by then. And if Johnson can show signs of sustainability by Year 4, it will be up to Ben and his coaching staff, because the outside help appears to be almost nonexistent.

Johnson didn't bring this up, but it came from a media source and was confirmed elsewhere:

The NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) funding for Gophers men's basketball stands at $0.00. Pitino's better off in Lobo Land, I'm guessing.