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Dawson Garcia got fired up watching the Gophers briefly from the bench Thursday, when Parker Fox dove on the floor, forcing a turnover that fueled a key second-half rally against Ohio State.

Garcia was asked after the 88-79 victory what the key was for the Gophers' turnaround since falling to the Buckeyes in December. Fox's hustle play was a good example of the little things it takes to win.

"We understand how much goes into winning," said Garcia, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. "How it's just all the little things each and every day. Not taking any day and rep for granted. It all matters."

The Gophers (17-9, 8-7 Big Ten) go on the road this weekend to play Sunday at Nebraska. Here are four things learned from Thursday's rematch against the Buckeyes at the Barn:

High on Hawkins

When you're leading the nation in assists, the first thing that comes to mind is usually to set up teammates for baskets. But Elijah Hawkins is now looking to score and facilitate at a high level.

Hawkins, who averages 9.1 points and 7.6 assists this season, had a career-high 24 points, to go with seven assists in Thursday's victory. He's had 40 points and 14 assists combined in the last two games, which includes going 7-for-9 from three-point range and 13-for-17 from the foul line.

The 5-11 Howard transfer had his typical unselfish game early with three points and three assists after the Gophers jumped out to a 21-9 lead Thursday. He became more aggressive scoring late with 17 points on 8-for-11 free throws, three assists and two steals in the second half.

Ohio State decided not to double-team Hawkins much off ball screens, which allowed him to use his quickness to get into the lane or drill step-back threes. He drilled three of his four three-pointers in the second half.

The Gophers are 10-2 this season when Hawkins scores in double figures, including 6-2 in Big Ten play.

"He was aggressive," Johnson said. "I thought he took what the defense gave him. Couple times he got into the gap. His finishing has been better around the rim. He's been working his butt off on finishes."

Frontcourt spark

The Gophers were expecting Garcia and Pharrel Payne to be one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten entering the season. It didn't happen overnight, but they're starting to live up to that early hype.

Johnson said Garcia and Payne are playing as well now as they ever have together. He even gave them a nickname: "Thunder and Lightning." They combined for 37 points 13 rebounds, including seven of the team's 13 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second-chance points (most for the Gophers since 2020-21).

"What those two guys do as far as being the anchor," Johnson said, "we're not doing it without those two guys and their mindset."

Garcia's been a force most of the season as the team's top scorer and rebounder. Payne's growth into a reliable low post scorer takes this frontcourt duo to another level, especially if Payne can hit free throws. He entered the night as an under 40% free-throw shooter this season.

"I'm super proud of his approach," Johnson said of Payne, who had 15 points on 5-for-7 field goals and 5-for-7 foul shooting. "[Free throws] looked confident. It looked clean. There was no back down. Now he's demanding the ball."

Beating Battle

For the most part, the Gophers downplayed the significance of facing their ex-teammate Jamison Battle again Thursday, but it obviously meant something to get revenge after the 84-74 loss Dec. 3 in Columbus.

"I'm sure there was a little bit there," Johnson said. "But I think it was more they know how much protecting home matters."

Battle had 25 points in the earlier meeting. The former DeLaSalle standout had 21 points in his first game back home with the Buckeyes, including 13 points in the first half. The different Minnesota players defending Battle adjusted and held him to 2-for-7 shooting in the second half.

Gophers fans wouldn't let up with harassing Battle with jeers every time he had the ball. There wasn't a moment he seemed fazed much by the hostile crowd. Still, Garcia and company did their best to make it a disappointing homecoming for Battle with a Gophers victory.

"It's nothing personal," Garcia said. "It's just business, at the end of the day. It's just another team that was unfortunately in the way. We just came out and did what we do."

Smaller rotation

Lost in how well the Gophers played to basically control Thursday's game against the Buckeyes from start to finish was the bench shrinking.

The Gophers went with a seven-man rotation with four starters playing at least 27 minutes, including Hawkins, Garcia and Mike Mitchell Jr. playing more than 30 minutes.

Fox and Braeden Carrington were the only two players off the bench Thursday. For the first time this season and in his Gophers career, former starter Joshua Ola-Joseph didn't play. Junior Isaiah Ihnen also didn't see the court after playing in 13 of the first 14 Big Ten games this season.

Johnson has reiterated that matchups dictate playing time for Ihnen and Ola-Joseph. It's also been hard to sit Payne and Garcia when they're playing well together and not in foul trouble.