Jamison Battle limped into the huddle during a Gophers timeout in the first half Tuesday night at Pittsburgh after he landed awkwardly on a charging call.
Battle shook off the hard fall, but officials waved off his three-point play opportunity that would've extended the Gopher lead. The game shifted in the other direction. Road games are often tougher to not only build but sustain momentum.
But the Gophers never lost their edge. Not even when trailing by eight points in the second half. Much like in past victories down the stretch several players made plays when it mattered most.
None of them more critical than Luke Loewe's game-clinching putback with 2.4 seconds left in the 54-53 victory against the Panthers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Petersen Events Center.
The Gophers are off to a surprising 6-0 start under first-year coach Ben Johnson. He's proud that they've found ways to finish games. But Johnson's not surprised by the way his team has had to scratch and claw to compete almost every night.
"That's going to be our team the whole year," Johnson said. "We're going to have so many more of these [games]. So the good thing is we're putting ourselves in the position where we just have to find different ways to win. And find different ways to gain confidence to make the right play, whether that's offensively or defensively."
Here are four things we learned from Minnesota's comeback win at Pittsburgh.
The Gophers always seem to be in the right place at the right time to make plays in the second half this season. Going back to the season opening win against Missouri Kansas City when a two-point lead was stretched to a blowout after a 17-4 run.
Going back to the four-point win vs. Western Kentucky when E.J. Stephens scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, including two free throws with two seconds left to seal the win.
Going back to the double overtime win vs. Princeton for the Asheville Championship title when Payton Willis carried his team in the extra periods with a career-high 29 points.
And Battle had eight of his team-best 16 points Tuesday night during a comeback effort to get within striking distance for Loewe's late-game heroics on the offensive rebound basket.
"Situational stuff we do in practice all of the time," Johnson said. "The more reps you get at it, and you have some success that's where the belief comes into play. Now our guys know whether we're up big or down big late we're going to find a way to climb back and give us a chance to win. You never want to get it into a point where it's a last second shot. But I think our guys are kind of comfortable in adversity. We talk about it all the time that adversity is going to hit."
Luke the skywalker
Loewe isn't known as a high flier on the basketball court, but there he was Tuesday night skying to grab the offensive board and finish the late put-back for the game-winner against Pitt.
At 6-4, 190 pounds, Loewe isn't the most intimidating physical presence. He doesn't always make the highlight reel or fill up the stat sheet. But his impact has been significant for the Gophers this season, especially defensively and with facilitating.
The Panthers took a 42-34 lead near the 10-minute mark Tuesday when Loewe's aggressive drive to the basket drew help defenders. He had the vision to find Battle for a wide open three-pointer on a kickout pass. After Loewe's steal on the next Pitt possession, he connected with Battle again on a dribble handoff at the top of the key. Swish. Next time down the floor offensively, Loewe again got the ball to Battle off a screen for a jump shot to cap an 8-0 run.
The William & Mary transfer and Fond du Lac, Wis., native had two points, but all three of Loewe's assists Tuesday were in that crucial stretch to get the Gophers back into the game. You could argue he was the hero even before the final shot.
"When I'm handling the ball or when [Battle and Willis] are coming off a screen I know when I hit them it's going in," Loewe said. "I have a ton of confidence in those guys. I love playing with them."
During one stretch in Tuesday's game, Pitt's 6-9, 280-pound center John Hugley scored 16 straight points and finished with a career-best 25-point, 14-rebound effort against the Gophers.
Hugley scored on post ups, put-backs and even made a nifty spin move baseline past Eric Curry for a reverse layup.
Curry, the only productive inside presence for the Gophers this season, picked up his fourth foul late in the second half. Backup center Charlie Daniels also had four fouls trying to stop Hugley.
The Gophers saw only a glimpse of how tough it will be to hold their own in the paint against formidable power conference big men. In the next three games, they'll face Mississippi State's 6-10, 245-pound Tolu Smith and North Carolina transfer Garrison Brooks, Michigan State's 7-footer Marcus Bingham and Joey Hauser, and also Michigan's 7-1 Hunter Dickinson, maybe the best of them all.
Johnson sat Curry in the first few minutes of the game after he got his first foul, but Daniels struggled to keep Hugley from fueling Pitt's offense. Going even deeper into his bench, Johnson went with Division II transfer Danny Ogele, but even that was only buying time.
Free throw impact
The Gophers didn't take their first free throw until 5:03 left in Tuesday's win at Pittsburgh when Battle hit 1-for-2 from the line to give them a one-point lead.
Stephens nailed two more at the line after being fouled on a three-point attempt at the 3:21 mark to pull within one after the Panthers responded. That was it from the foul line on the night going 3-for-5, but it was just enough to get them within striking distance in the end.
Minnesota's five free throws attempted still were the fewest for the program in a game since going 0-for-1 at the charity stripe in a 63-53 loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 21, 2015.
The Gophers combined to shoot 57-for-85 in the first four games this season but are just 8-for-11 in the last two games combined. Not surprisingly, they have scored just 55 and 54 points in the last two games.
Ranking 245th nationally with 10.8 free throws made per game, the Gophers are 13th in the Big Ten ahead of only Penn State's 9.6. It helped that opponents like Jacksonville (7.7), UMKC (7.8), and Princeton (10.1) all made even fewer free throws per game this season, but that won't always be the case.