After his 26 points and eight three-pointers in Friday's upset of No. 4 Iowa, Brandon Johnson was mobbed by his teammates and even received a bear hug from Gophers coach Richard Pitino.
The 6-8 senior forward transferred to Minnesota from Western Michigan to make an impact in the Big Ten and to experience moments like that postgame celebration.
"It's kind of like a blur," Johnson said. "Lot of voices going on. Lot of pushing. Lot of shoving. I'm going to remember that for the rest of my life."
Johnson hopes there are more bright memories to come after his first breakout game with the Gophers (8-1, 1-1 Big Ten), who host Michigan State (6-2, 0-2) on Monday night at Williams Arena.
The last time the Chicago native played the Spartans came during the best season of his college career, at Western Michigan after coming back from a season-ending knee injury. With a new team, Johnson continues to overcome injury obstacles.
On Dec. 8 against Boston College, Johnson suffered a left ankle injury that looked serious enough that teammates told Pitino to do the postgame speech in the training room to support him. He was in pain.
Although he missed only one game, Johnson's lingering ankle issues put him in and out of the Gophers starting lineup. His explosion against Iowa shows progress after having a tough time staying healthy.
"It was a little difficult," Johnson said. "When I felt like I was back to being my old self I tweaked my ankle in practice just doing something small. But I have to credit my family especially, and my loved ones. They definitely motivated me during that whole time I was down on myself."
Johnson's family and teammates were also there for him when he was out the entire 2018-19 season with a torn meniscus at Western Michigan. That support and his hard work fueled an impressive comeback to earn Mid-American Conference third-team all-league honors as a junior last season.
He averaged 15.4 points and led the Broncos with 8.1 rebounds in 2019-20. Johnson's career-high 29 points vs. Ball State on Feb. 8 included scoring 13 consecutive points in the second half.
The Gophers hadn't seen that type of scoring groove from Johnson until Iowa. Entering Christmas Day, he was averaging just 6.0 points on 37% shooting, including only 2-for-10 from beyond the arc.
Johnson surpassed that in just overtime with 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting on three-pointers. He scored 23 points in the second half and overtime, finishing with a program-best 8-for-9 shooting from deep.
"I'm not surprised at all," Gophers center Liam Robbins said. "He told me when we were checking back in … he was like 'I'm feeling good. I'm going to shoot it if I get it.' "
Starting four games with Robbins this season, Johnson previously displayed his scoring potential with a 15-point game in the Gophers' win vs. North Dakota on Dec. 4. He made only one three that night.
Johnson had only twice hit three three-pointers in a game during his Western Michigan career. But he shot 22-for-66 as a junior, nearly doubling his combined 12 threes from his first two college seasons.
"My coach didn't particularly like me taking outside shots," Johnson said. "The past couple summers, I stayed on campus and worked out pretty much every single day on my weaknesses: ballhandling and perimeter shots. The amount of work I put in, that's what makes me so confident."
After entering the transfer portal when Steve Hawkins was fired as the Broncos coach in March, Johnson's final schools were Minnesota, Dayton and Cincinnati.
Pitino's program turned out to be the best fit because his big men have the freedom to be on the perimeter. The Gophers are excited to see Johnson continue to be confident with his shot in Big Ten play.
"Brandon is a perfect fit for what our style is all about," Pitino said. "He can attack the basket; he can post up. Obviously, he can stretch out and shoot the three. He's just been hobbled by an ankle injury. He seems to be moving in a direction where he's healthy."