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SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. – Jamison Battle had more to feel excited about joining his Gophers basketball teammates on their trip to California than escaping the winter cold in Minnesota.

The 6-7 All-Big Ten preseason forward finally got to put on a uniform and take the court this season after recovering from foot surgery last month. Battle returned to the starting lineup and finished with 11 points in his season debut Monday's 62-61 overtime win in the SoCal Challenge opener against Cal Baptist.

"I was just craving to get to 100% to be out here to help these guys," Battle said Monday. "Watching from the sideline isn't the best, isn't fun. There were a lot of things I picked up on to relay to coach and the guys. It's just good to be back. It's good to come out here and get the win."

Battle, who played 36 minutes Monday, was supposed to be on a minutes restriction, but Gophers coach Ben Johnson couldn't afford to take him off the floor when it got close.

"[Battle's] really the only guy who has got meaningful minutes within this program," Johnson said. "Give Jamison credit. The guy's practiced maybe twice. This is his first game. I played him way too many minutes to be honest, but I thought this was a team effort."

Sitting out the first four games of the season didn't change Battle's leadership role. He was named co-captain and took that responsibility seriously.

"He's been a very vocal leader," point guard Ta'Lon Cooper said. "He's like that real calm guy. Really calm on and off the court, so I feel like he just keeps every positive."

After transferring from George Washington, Battle led the Gophers in scoring (17.5) and rebounding (6.3) last season and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors.

A career-high 39-point performance at Maryland in March made it clear Battle was the go-to guy, but he didn't consider it his team yet. That distinction belonged to captains and seniors Eric Curry and Payton Willis. He learned from them how to lead this season.

"They laid the foundation and helped us," Battle said earlier. "They had been through it and knew the Big Ten. They would always be in my ear because they knew once they're gone, I'm going to have to step up and be a leader."

In Battle's absence, North Carolina transfer Dawson Garcia became the focal point of the Gophers offense. The 6-11 forward averaged a team-best 17.7 points and 7.1 rebounds through four games. And Garcia scored the game-winning basket on Monday against Cal Baptist in overtime.

Battle was looking forward to teaming up with Garcia to create one of the Big Ten's best tandems. They built chemistry in practice before his running mate was sidelined in October with the foot surgery.

"Having to sit and watch was not enjoyable for him because he wanted to be out there competing," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said earlier. "Jamison's been through it. So just the presence in timeouts. And just guys can look over and there's that sense of confidence. When you don't have that it's tough."

In the starting lineup, the Gophers had to use former walk-on Will Ramberg in the first four games. Ramberg ended up being the team's second leading rebounder, but he didn't see the floor Monday.

Freshman guard Braeden Carrington was sidelined to begin the season with an ankle injury, but he made his debut Nov. 14 vs. DePaul. Carrington's 11 points and three steals in last week's win against Central Michigan was a sign he was gaining confidence. And the former Park Center star had nine points, four rebounds, and two steals in 29 minutes vs. Cal Baptist.

The three-point shooting threat from Carrington and Battle has the potential to be a big boost for the Gophers even beyond the California trip.

"I feel like with those guys being back it opens the floor up," forward Joshua Ola-Joseph said earlier. "Having those shooters back will be very good for our offense."