Gophers men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson is on a razor’s edge between highlighting his team’s failures and crushing their confidence, which was at a season high after the team’s first win in the Big Ten on January 12 at Ohio State.
Since then, though, it was a 78-60 loss to Illinois that required some real talking on the coach’s part.
“It’s a very fine line,” Johnson said Wednesday. “But I think we have a mature group and they want to be coached and they want to win. Now, he’s setting the standard for everything that comes with winning.”
Johnson went into the unacceptable elements of Monday’s loss and why there were those breakdowns.
“You have to remember the plays,” he said. “You have to remember an action. … Could be defensive assignments. This time of year, you should know the defensive task.
“Why didn’t you know? Didn’t the staff communicate it to the player? If it was communicated, where was the lapse? I’m just trying to figure out the answers to that. Those are the things that will drive anyone crazy.”
The Gophers (7-9, 1-5 Big Ten) will look to rectify such issues against third-ranked, conference-leading Purdue (17-1, 6-1) on Thursday at Williams Arena. Tipoff is set for 6 pm
In addition to the run against the Illini, another inexcusable item was a lack of energy.
“We just weren’t there,” forward Josh Ola-Joseph said. “Low energies. I feel like we have to do a little more self-dig for certain players, myself included, to bring it every time we’re on the court.”
Johnson said it was important for players to hear from him as the Illini went 41-17 in 16 minutes at the Barn on Monday. But veteran leaders must also do their part.
“It’s important for older guys like me to make sure the group sticks together and doesn’t let us get separated from each other,” said senior co-captain Taurus Samuels.
Jamison Battle left the Illini game late in the second half with a back injury. The team didn’t practice Tuesday, and Johnson said he wouldn’t know more about whether Battle could play Purdue until after practice Wednesday.
“It’s only when contact comes into play, how does it hold up?” Johnson said. “…We’ll see how it turns out. I know he wants to play, but we won’t know until we’re five on five.”
Purdue center Zach Edey, the Big Ten’s leading player of the year candidate, is coming off a career-high 32 points in the Boilermakers’ 64-63 win over Michigan State on Monday. It was one more point than his previous best 31 in their 89-70 win over Minnesota on Dec. 4.
The 7-foot-4, 285-pound Edey made 26 shots against the Spartans and 23 against Minnesota. Johnson’s goal will be to make it challenging for Edey to get the ball in his comfort zone and be smart when and where they bring in double teams. One goal would be to hold his shots to, say, less than 20.