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Gophers vs. Nebraska — three things to watch

Finishing games

The Gophers remember all too well the Jan. 7 game against Nebraska at Williams Arena last season. Their first Big Ten win was within reach after Taurus Samuels nailed a three-pointer to force overtime with four seconds left, but they still fell 81-79 in the extra period.

The Cornhuskers (7-1) return to the Barn on Wednesday night trying to prevent the Gophers (5-3) again from picking up their first Big Ten win of the season. Finishing strong will be the key.

In all three Gopher losses this season, they either held a lead or were within striking distance at the midway point through the second half. They let a 20-point lead turn into a two-point loss vs. Missouri. They let a one-point deficit turn into an 18-point loss vs. San Francisco. And they dropped the Big Ten opener Sunday 84-74 after trailing by six points under four minutes left.

Dawson Garcia did everything he could to bring the Gophers back with 28 of his 36 points in the second half Sunday, but he needed help to close the gap even further down the stretch. Garcia didn't have a field goal in the last 2 minutes, 56 seconds.

Starting Payne?

Gophers coach Ben Johnson said last week that he would think about starting lineup changes this season, so it might make sense for him to make that move Wednesday night.

For the fourth straight game Sunday, the Gophers got off to a slow start. This time it was a 14-2 deficit in Columbus that ballooned to 42-20 near the end of the first half. The answers to fixing the issues that show up to begin games might be as simple as a different lineup.

Johnson was asked if he would consider starting Pharrel Payne, who joined Garcia in the starting frontcourt in the season opener vs. Bethune-Cookman. The 6-9 sophomore ranks third on the team in scoring (9.4) and leads the team in blocks (1.6) and field goal percentage (61.7).

Payne and Garcia played a lot together in the second half against Ohio State during the comeback from a 22-point deficit. Why wouldn't Payne start the game if he's finishing it?

"I think we have multiple guys who can start," Johnson said. "Pharrel being one of them. But Pharrel might be going against a second unit big, so you also look at that. I think we can win out with Dawson against anybody vs. his matchup at [power forward or center]."

Taming Tominaga

The game plan for every Nebraska opponent has been to slow down Keisei Tominaga, but few teams have been able to do that successfully.

The 6-2 senior from Japan had seven 20-point performances in his last nine games last season, which included in a 78-75 loss to the Gophers in the Big Ten tournament. He scored 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting in Sunday's 89-60 loss against Creighton.

Sophomore Braeden Carrington's the Gophers best perimeter defender, but they struggled to stop Ohio State's top guards when he got into foul trouble. Bruce Thornton ended up with a team-high 26 points, including 15 points in the decisive second half.


Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 1.5-point underdogs. Series: The Gophers lead the all-time series 55-24, but they went 1-2 vs. Nebraska last season. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: Big Ten plus. Radio: 100.3 FM.



Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Elijah Hawkins 5-11 Jr. 7.8

G – Braeden Carrington 6-4 So. 5.4

F – Joshua Ola-Joseph 6-7 So. 8.8

F – Isaiah Ihnen 6-9 Jr. 5.9

F – Dawson Garcia 6-11 Jr. 20.5

Key reserves – Cam Christie, G, 6-6, Fr., 11.0 ppg; Mike Mitchell Jr., G, 6-2, Jr. 8.6 ppg; Pharrel Payne, F, 6-9, So., 9.4 ppg; Parker Fox, F, 6-8, Sr., 3.0 ppg; Jack Wilson, C, 6-11, Sr., 2.3 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 27-42 record (third season)

Notable: The Gophers are first in the Big Ten with 31.1 bench points per game, which ranks 26th nationally.


Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Keisei Tominaga 6-2 Sr. 15.5

G – Jamarques Lawrence 6-3 So. 5.1

G – Brice Williams 6-7 Sr. 13.5

F – Josiah Allick 6-8 Sr. 7.3

C – Rienk Mast 6-10 Jr. 14.0

Key reserves – Juwan Gary, F, 6-6, Jr., 14.4 ppg; Sam Hoiberg, G, 6-0, So., 4.4 ppg; C.J. Wilcher, G, 6-5, Jr., 6.0 ppg; Jarron Coleman, G, 6-5, Sr., 2.4 ppg.

Coach: Fred Hoiberg 162-140 (10th season)

Notable: The Cornhuskers are ranked No. 77 in the NCAA's first NET rankings, which help evaluate teams for the NCAA tournament. Minnesota is ranked No. 157.

Fuller's score prediction (5-3): Gophers 74, Nebraska 72