Ben Johnson was all business when the slightest bit of pomp acknowledged the circumstance intertwined in the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball season opener Tuesday at Williams Arena.
When the public-address announced it was Johnson first game as Minnesota’s head coach, the Minnesota alum didn’t wave to the crowd, keeping his attention down onto his white dry-erase board primed for instructions to give his debut starting five.
On Monday, Johnson was willing to share the significance and “pinching” himself over coaching in his hometown after 15 years as an assistant. But his first comment on any meaning within the moment went to a bottom line.
“I hope it means a win,” Johnson said.
The Gophers’ 12-point lead was cut to two with under eight minutes left, but Minnesota went on a 12-0 run to put a Missouri-Kansas City, 71-56, to give Johnson his first win.
Postgame, Johnson went to middle his team on the block “M” at half court and players briefly messed up his hair before he got a brief message in.
Jamison Battle led the Gophers with 18 points, with Minnesota giving up a run to the Roos with him on the bench after he suffered his fourth foul. Payton Willis and E.J. Stephens each had 13 points.
Josiah Allick topped all scorers with 21.
Minnesota beat UMKC 90-61 last December as Minnesota went 14-15 in Richard Pitino’s last season. The Roos went 11-13 to finish sixth in the Summit League last year and are picked in the preseason poll to finish sixth against this season.
The Gophers led 33-25 at half, with Willis and Battle leading way with eight points apiece. Minnesota went on a 9-0 run to take a 12-4 lead, but the Roos’ methodical pace kept them in the game.
Minnesota’s rotation was only seven players deep on Tuesday and Battle and Stephens played all 20 minutes in the first half.