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Gophers' loss to Badgers reveals one of Ben Johnson's biggest challenges

The Gophers need to end the Badgers' pipeline in Minnesota.
Ben Johnson

When Ben Johnson became head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers men's basketball team, he took on plenty of challenges. But Sunday's loss to the Wisconsin Badgers may have revealed one of his most important tasks, keeping in-state talent at home.

The Badgers have four Minnesotans on their roster and those players combined for 40 points in Wisconsin's 66-60 victory.

Maple Grove's Brad Davison has been a staple of Badger basketball over the past six years and continued to kill the Gophers on Sunday. With 14 points on four 3-pointers, Davison is the sharpshooter the Gophers were lacking during the Richard Pitino era.

The Badgers have also built a pipeline in Lakeville. Former Lakeville North standout Nate Reuvers was a star for the Badgers and that torch has been passed to Tyler Wahl, who had 15 points on Sunday afternoon.

Eagan's Steven Crowl also contributed with 11 points while Woodbury's Ben Carlson came off the bench. Together, they helped pace Wisconsin, helping them build a 32-25 lead at halftime.

The Gophers mounted a comeback in the second half when they mounted an 11-2 run to tie the game at 40, but Chucky Hepburn and Davison hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Wisconsin ahead 46-40.

Like most games this season, the Gophers made a late charge thanks to their defense. By holding the Badgers without a bucket for nearly five minutes, Minnesota was able to tie the game at 60. 

But Johnny Davis delivered the go-ahead bucket with 2:10 to play and scored the final six points to help Wisconsin hold on for the victory.

The performance was concerning for fans of Gopher hoops but Johnson is doing his best to fix that going forward.

When building his roster for this season, Johnson re-connected with several players who had played elsewhere. That includes Robbinsdale's Jamison Battle, who came into Sunday's game as Minnesota's leading scorer and New Brighton's Sean Sutherlin.

Cottage Grove's Pharrel Payne and Park Center's Braden Carrington have already committed for the 2022 class, but it remains to be seen how Johnson will fare in the future.

The reality is that it could take time. Lindsay Whalen has experienced a similar situation with the women's team and her groundwork has started to bear fruit over the past couple of seasons.

Roseau's Katie Borowicz decided to stay home in the 2021 class and Mara Braun (Wayzata), Amaya Battle (Hopkins) and Mallory Heyer (Chaska) have all committed to Minnesota for the 2022 class.

Johnson is hoping to have similar success in the coming years.  For a state that has produced Chet Holmgren, Jalen Suggs, and Paige Bueckers, keeping players at home could determine Johnson's success with the Gophers.

For now, the Gophers (11-7, 2-7 Big Ten) will look to earn a much-needed win when they host Purdue on Wednesday.

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