Before Ben Johnson could get his Gophers men's basketball team together for the morning shootaround Saturday, he learned three starters were out and another was not feeling well going into playing Rutgers.
In the Big Ten entering the weekend, only Iowa and Maryland did not have games either postponed or canceled among the 14 teams in the conference during the pandemic this season. And the Gophers were one more absence away from falling below the Big Ten's minimum of seven players available for the second straight game after Wednesday's postponement at Penn State.
Starters Jamison Battle, E.J. Stephens and Eric Curry were ruled out, but Luke Loewe fought through flu-like symptoms to score a season-high 19 points in the 68-65 victory Saturday against Rutgers.
"Luke was hit with it, but he wanted to play," Johnson said. "All credit goes to him. The competitive nature in that dude to be able to rise up like he did shows what we're trying to make this thing all about."
Johnson said Battle was dealing with a non-COVID illness as well on Friday. He wanted to play the next day, but the Gophers decided it was best for their leading scorer to rest at home.
"If he could've played, he would've played," Johnson said. "I pulled him out yesterday, and I told him, 'You're not right.' But I think part of it is we're in the winter. There's still the flu and cold. That's part of life, too. Sometimes guys just don't feel well."
Loewe was given intravenous fluids before the game, but he was able push through to shoot 8-for-14 from the field in 39 minutes. The William & Mary transfer even saved his best for last with 12 points in the second half, including a jumper to give the Gophers a 66-62 lead with 44.8 seconds left.
"I was just a little under the weather this morning," Loewe said. "I'm glad we were able to go out there and get the victory and come together as a team. A lot of guys stepped up today, and it was a fun time being on the floor with these guys."
Curry still sidelined
Curry, the Gophers' senior big man and co-captain, watched from the bench in street clothes and a walking boot for the second straight game Saturday recovering from a left ankle injury.
Charlie Daniels got his second start and finished with a career-high six assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes. Also picking up his first start was 7-foot freshman Treyton Thompson, who finished with a career-high 10 points and six rebounds in 40 minutes.
Assistants Dave Thorson and Jason Kemp, and players Sean Sutherlin, Danny Ogele and Joey Kern were out last Sunday against Iowa due to illness and COVID-19 protocols, but they were back against Rutgers.
Sutherlin replaced Stephens in the starting lineup and finished with five points, four rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes.