With one last opportunity to get right before Big Ten play resumes, the Gophers men's basketball team had a shot at the first signature home win of the season against an opponent known for knocking off bigger conference teams.
St. Louis was a 2 ½-point favorite after already beating North Carolina State and LSU, so it certainly expected to add another notch to its belt.
Instead, the Gophers made a statement Sunday behind Marcus Carr's 32 points and a huge lift from the bench to hold off St. Louis 90-82 at Williams Arena.
"We didn't have the showing that we wanted at Illinois," Carr said. "We hit the ground working after that and learned from our mistakes. We had a good St. Louis team coming to our house tonight — and we took care of business."
The Gophers (7-1) took longer to get adjusted with their newcomer-laden roster against a relatively soft early schedule with six home games against struggling programs.
When Richard Pitino's team played a ranked opponent for the first time, it lost by 27 at Illinois last week.
The Gophers had to pause for two weeks when players tested positive for COVID-19 before the season, making chemistry building a work in progress. But they now have a huge confidence boost going into a big Christmas Day matchup vs. Iowa at home.
The Billikens (6-1), a top contender to win the Atlantic 10 Conference or earn an NCAA tournament at-large bid, had won 11 games in a row dating to last season.
"That's a Top 25 [caliber] team," Pitino said. "That's a great, quality win. That's a great team effort. A lot of guys stepped up. I haven't even thought of Iowa. We'll take a couple days off and enjoy this win."
Carr scored 14 of his team's first 17 points to help build a seven-point lead early in the first half, but the Gophers needed Carr's supporting cast to go up 42-40 at halftime.
Much like when the Gophers came from behind in an overtime win against Boston College, Pitino's bench was a catalyst. Isaiah Ihnen finished with his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and he also had three blocks.
Before the game, Pitino announced junior forward Jarvis Omersa would opt out for the season because of COVID-19 concerns. That hurt the Gophers' frontcourt depth, but they were able to get more contributions from Ihnen and Eric Curry, who had a season-high nine points.
"Jarvis brought a lot of energy, and he was a very athletic guy," Ihnen said. "That's something we were big on was making sure everybody stays energized."
The Gophers were outrebounded for the second straight game, but it wasn't as wide a gap as it was when the Illini had a plus-18 edge Tuesday. St. Louis went from a 10-plus rebound margin at halftime to losing the battle on the boards 23-20 in the second half.
Pitino was also able to establish 7-footer Liam Robbins inside to open the second half before he got into foul trouble. His four points, including a dunk in the first two minutes, ignited an 8-0 run that was capped by Both Gach's three-pointer to extend Minnesota's lead to 54-44.
The Gophers were dominated by Illinois' Kofi Cockburn when Robbins was out of the game in the Big Ten opener, but they staved off a late rally Sunday when the Drake transfer left the game with 10 points, four blocks and four fouls at the 9:20 mark.
The Billikens' full-court press led to 14 of Minnesota's 20 turnovers in the second half, which helped them pull within 61-57 on Jordan Goodwin's jumper.
Carr, Gach and Gabe Kalscheur combined for 12 points during a 14-3 run to get some cushion.
"I thought we competed much better," Pitino said. "In the middle of the second half, I thought we were playing terrific basketball. We were hitting bodies and we were boxing out."