Entering Saturday's game against Rutgers, senior guard Payton Willis knew he would likely have to play all 40 minutes with the Gophers shorthanded.
"I've had to do it before," Willis said Saturday, "so I didn't think much of it."
Not only did Willis not leave the floor, but he also had the best game of his career with 32 points and a school-record tying eight three-pointers in the 68-65 victory at Williams Arena.
Saturday's performance earned the 6-4 Fayetteville, Ark., native co-Big Ten player of the week honors Monday. Willis shared the award with Michigan center Hunter Dickinson.
Willis, who scored the game-sealing free throws with two seconds left to play against the Scarlet Knights, said the Gophers knew they had to rally together missing key players. They played without leading scorer Jamison Battle, and starters E.J. Stephens and Eric Curry due to injury, illness, and COVID-19 protocols.
"That's been the mindset the past week and a half," Willis said Saturday. "Since Eric went out, it's just next guy up. We know the guys who haven't been playing as much are still preparing like they are going to play big minutes, and that gave them confidence today to come out and play the way they did."
The last Gophers player to receive the Big Ten's weekly award was Willis on Dec. 6 after he had 24 points and seven assists in the 81-76 win at Mississippi State. He's averaging career highs this season in points (16.5), rebounds (4.7), assists (3.9), steals (1.8), three-point percentage (42.4), and minutes per game (36.7).
The Gophers (11-5, 2-5 in the Big Ten) play next on Thursday against No. 16 Ohio State at the Barn, followed by Sunday's Border Battle at No. 11 Wisconsin.