IOWA CITY – For the first time this season, Gophers men's basketball coach Ben Johnson saw his team lead at halftime in Big Ten play Sunday, playing his up-tempo style to perfection in front of a frustrated crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Dawson Garcia lit up the Hawkeyes for 18 points and the Gophers hit eight three-pointers in the first half for a 51-38 halftime lead, but the momentum shifted with an ill-timed injury.
After Garcia played only four minutes in the second half following a lower-body injury, the Gophers blew a 20-point lead to watch their three-game win streak snapped Sunday in a 90-85 loss against rival Iowa.
"He tried to give it a go and just couldn't do it," Johnson said about Garcia, who didn't return after limping off with 15:45 to play. "I don't think it's anything significant in terms of long term."
The Gophers (15-8, 6-6 Big Ten) shot 55% in the first half, including 8-for-12 from three-point range. They had trailed 10 times in Big Ten games at halftime with one tie in a 75-66 win earlier this month against Northwestern at home. The blown 20-point lead, though, was reminiscent of a 70-68 loss to Missouri in mid-November at home.
The Hawkeyes (14-10, 6-7) trailed 66-47 after Cam Christie's baseline dunk with 14 minutes, 20 seconds remaining, but they would take control of the game in the second half with a 34-11 run.
Payton Sandfort, who tied Patrick McCaffery with a team-high 21 points, scored in transition to give Iowa its first lead since the first half with 4:35 to play at 78-77. Sandfort's three then made it 81-77 with 4:05 left to cap a 16-0 run for the Hawkeyes, who shot 59% in the second half. They also were 23-for-28 from the foul line for the game, including 15-for-17 after halftime.
"It was tough," Christie said. "Dawson's one of our best players and one of our vocal leaders. We really take a lot of pride in what he does and he does, too. Obviously, not having him on the court is definitely a detriment, but still no excuse. We had to find a way to rally."
In early December, the Gophers did exactly that in a 76-65 win against Nebraska at home after Garcia missed most of the second half because of an ankle injury.
Garcia helped the Gophers to a strong start Sunday with 14 of his team's first 21 points. But Braeden Carrington (a season-high 18 points) and Mike Mitchell Jr. (17 points) also combined for 22 points and six threes in the first half.
The Gophers overcame early foul trouble from starters Pharrel Payne and Elijah Hawkins, who eventually fouled out. Iowa pulled within 26-24, but a Mitchell three capped a 25-10 run to make it 51-34 in the first half.
"We made an emphasis all week that this had to be our type of game," Johnson said. "In the first half I thought it was. To be able to hold them to 38 [points]. The tempo and the pace was ours but we just lost our way."
Garcia had 30 points in the previous meeting against Iowa this season in a 86-77 loss Jan. 15 at Williams Arena, but he wasn't able to continue his hot start Sunday.
In the second half, the 6-11 junior was on defense when he seemingly got hit in his lower body after contesting a missed shot by Iowa. Garcia limped up the floor and called for coaches to take him out just before Mitchell's fourth three made it 62-42.
Sandfort was fouled on a jumper with under 16 minutes left when Garcia went to the bench to get checked by medical staff. The Gophers were outscored 45-23 after that point and 44-28 in the paint for the game.
"We can't have a 20-point lead and lose that," Carrington said. "We all know we can win without [Garcia]. We did earlier in the year against Nebraska. When one man goes down, another has to step up. We shouldn't have to rely on one person."