First-year Gophers coach Ben Johnson wanted to give his basketball team the best example of championship-level defense entering this year, so he showed players various video clips on the Milwaukee Bucks and Baylor Bears.
Both teams leaned on their defensive prowess to win the NBA and NCAA titles last season, respectively.
Far from an offensive juggernaut this season, the Gophers have remained undefeated by making it tough for opponents to score, something that continued Wednesday night in a 55-44 victory against Jacksonville in front of announced crowd of 9,250 at Williams Arena.
"We forced 16 turnovers and we're not a denial turnover team," Johnson said. "That's just by having constant pressure. They know we're going to have to win games like this. There are going to be games when it's going to be ugly. You just have to persevere."
Payton Willis and Jamison Battle combined for 31 points for the Gophers, who held the Dolphins to 32% shooting, including 1-for-15 from three-point range.
The Gophers are off to a 5-0 start for the second straight season, but they scored only 30 points in the first half Wednesday. That was still good enough for a comfortable 10-point advantage.
Minnesota was outrebounded 46-28, which included allowing 17 offensive rebounds that made it difficult to pull away at times. But a fundamental part of the U's identity this season is to make the opposition frustrated at running their half-court sets.
For the second straight game, the Gophers trailed in the first half in front of the home crowd. But Jacksonville's three-point lead early was short-lived after the Dolphins were held to just 31% shooting and committed nine turnovers by halftime.
"He's instilled in us the grind and grit of defending," said Battle, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. "That's something we take to heart. I think everyone on this team loves to defend. It's been a mindset that's been put in our head since the first day of practice."
In a 78-49 win against Purdue Fort Wayne last week, the Gophers erased an early 10-point deficit with aggressive man-to-man pressure that forced 11 of IPFW's 20 turnovers in the first half.
The undersized Gophers, who play at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, were outrebounded for the second straight game — and in alarming fashion. They're one of the worst teams in the nation in offensive rebounding but don't send many players crashing the boards off missed shots.
Johnson prefers to have bodies hustling back to stop transition baskets, guarding the three-point line, and holding opponents to one shot. An uncharacteristic night giving up so many offensive boards was a result of forcing so many long jump shots, Willis said.
"The ball was coming off long," he said. "The bigs were doing a good job boxing out. Us guards have to be better getting those long loose balls."
Minnesota entered the game first in the Big Ten in three-point percentage defense (23.9), first in defensive rebounding (33.0), second in steals (8.25), sixth in turnover margin (plus-1.25), and sixth in blocks (4.25).
The Dolphins (2-2) pulled within 43-35 after Gyasi Powell's layup with just under eight minutes to play Wednesday, but E.J. Stephens and Willis nailed consecutive threes to answer.
Sean Sutherlin, who gave a spark off the bench with eight of his 10 points in the first half, then provided the gut punch scoring off a turnover to start a 9-0 run that put the game away.
It was a brutal night shooting from long distance on both sides. The Gophers were 4-for-19, but Jacksonville missed its first 14 threes until there were 42 seconds left in the second half.
Dolphins leading scorer Jordan Davis, who averaged 14 points, was held to four points on 1-for-11 shooting.
Johnson told the Gophers before the season that games would have to be won pretty ugly with defense, and Wednesday night was the perfect example.
"We tried to create our own luck by forcing tough, contested shots," Johnson said. "I thought our guys really did a good job of that."