Less than two minutes into the second half Wednesday, Dawson Garcia was done for the night after trying to play with a sore left ankle. But the Gophers weren't ready to give up against Nebraska.
Gophers coach Ben Johnson knew he couldn't replace Garcia with one player, but everyone who stepped onto the floor contributed to the 75-65 comeback victory against the Cornhuskers.
After failing to overcome double-digit deficits earlier at San Francisco and Ohio State, the Gophers erased a 15-point halftime deficit with stifling defense and five players scoring in double figures.
Garcia, who was averaging 20.5 points entering Wednesday, went scoreless in seven minutes, but he cheered from the bench as his teammates outscored the Huskers 52-26 in the second half.
"We knew Dawson might not be coming back," Johnson said after the game. "You didn't want them to feel zapped and that there's no hope. … We had to take a deep breath and hope they could play like they did for 20 minutes."
Here are four things learned from the Gophers' first Big Ten win of the season:
Garcia wasn't the only returner with experience playing in the Big Ten last season. Three sophomores were expected to make a jump after getting thrown into the mix as freshmen a year ago.
Joshua Ola-Joseph, Braeden Carrington and Pharrel Payne picked the right time to have their best game together this season. They combined for 40 points Wednesday, including 29 points in the second half.
Payne played a season-high 35 minutes after being on a minutes restriction with a foot injury last month. Providing an inside presence without Garcia, the 6-9 Cottage Grove native had 10 of his 12 points in the second half on 4-for-4 shooting.
Ola-Joseph led the Gophers in scoring with 15 points, including 13 points and five rebounds in the second half on 5-for-6 shooting. He responded after being benched earlier in the game with two points and zero rebounds in 12 minutes in the first half.
"It's not debatable, you have to rebound better," Johnson said he told Ola-Joseph. "I could tell he was getting fired up and was mad at me. But when he goes out there that's the response I needed. That's what I told him. I shouldn't have to do that."
Carrington has defended the opponent's best guard in every game this season. More often than not he gets the job done, but his biggest effort yet came on Wednesday night.
The former Minnesota Mr. Basketball held Nebraska's Keisei Tominaga to four points on 0-for-5 shooting from the field. Tominaga, who averaged nearly 16 points per game this season, had scored 20 points or more in six of his last nine games last season and twice this season.
On Sunday, the Gophers struggled to guard Ohio State's Bruce Thornton (26 points) when Carrington picked up some fouls on questionable calls. Earlier this season, Carrington slowed down Pine Bluff's Kylen Milton and New Orleans' Jordan Johnson, who were both top 10 in the nation in scoring.
The Huskers ranked third in the Big Ten for fewest turnovers per game (9.6), but the Gophers scored 24 points off 18 turnovers. Brice Williams, who had just one of his 18 points after halftime, and Jamarques Lawrence combined for 10 of the team's 12 turnovers in the second half.
The Gophers have much better backcourt depth than a year ago, but they ran into trouble matching the opposition in the three losses this season.
That wasn't the case on Wednesday, as Elijah Hawkins, Mike Mitchell Jr., Cam Christie and Carrington combined for 46 points, 14 assists, 14 rebounds and nine steals against Nebraska. Their scoring together almost doubled what the foursome totaled in losses to Missouri (24 points), San Francisco (20 points) and Ohio State (25 points).
Carrington looked confident getting to the basket off the dribble. Christie had an off-shooting night, but he showed improvement defensively and had only one turnover in 25 minutes in his first career start.
The biggest overall impact in the second half came from the U's two transfer point guards. Mitchell had all of his career-high five steals after halftime. It was the most in a game for a Gophers player since Gabe Kalscheur vs. Florida International in 2019.
Hawkins scored 10 of his 12 points and dished out eight of his season-high 11 assists with just one turnover in the second half. He was the only player to play the entire second half when the Gophers outscored Nebraska by 26 points.
After the game, Johnson said he didn't know the extent of Garcia's ankle injury, but he hoped it wouldn't be significant.
Last season, the Gophers went 0-5 when they played without Garcia, who was sidelined with an ankle injury during the Big Ten season. They still have four nonconference games left before league play resumes Jan. 4 at Michigan.
Garcia's 36-point game in Sunday's loss at Ohio State was the highest scoring game for any Big Ten player this season, so it was hard for the Gophers to see their leader hurting Wednesday.
"He's worked so hard," Johnson said. "Especially when he's in a flow to have that happen so early you feel for him. He tried to give it a go in the second half and couldn't."
The Gophers had Payne and Carrington both dealing with foot issues this season, but both played over 32 minutes Wednesday.