ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Payton Willis and Jamison Battle didn't come into the Gophers basketball season expecting be first-year coach Ben Johnson's go-to guys, but that's exactly what happened during a 3-0 start.
Willis, a senior guard, and Battle, a sophomore forward, were named to the Asheville Championship all-tournament team Sunday night after they combined for 52 points and 22 rebounds in an 87-80 double overtime victory against Princeton in the title game.
After winning tournament MVP honors with a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds, Willis talked about how the Gophers had to bounce back mentally quickly after squandering some opportunities to win the game before it went into two extra periods.
"We had a couple chances to close it out in regulation," said Willis, who was presented his award by former North Carolina coach and Hall of Famer Roy Williams. "I had a good shot at the buzzer, but Coach Johnson kept preaching to have energy and discipline. And we ended up getting the win after grinding it out."
Willis finished 11-for-18 from the field and 4-for-7 from the foul line in 44 minutes. Battle, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, went 10-for-17 from the field and 3-for-6 on free throws in 47 minutes.
Battle and Willis are the first Gophers players to record a 20-point and 10-rebound game together since Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu on Dec. 21, 2018 against North Carolina A&T.
"That's the first preseason tournament I've ever won and the first time I've started the season 3-0," Battle said. "It's just sending a message to Gophers Nation that Coach Johnson has us on the right track."
In the Asheville Championship 73-69 opening win Friday against Western Kentucky, Battle scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the first half, including five three-pointers. But Willis also added 19 points, including 12 points in the second half.
The third double-figure scorer Sunday for the Gophers was senior wing Sean Sutherlin, who had 14 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.
Freshmen Abdoulaye Thiam and Treyton Thompson made strides to get themselves ready to play this season, but they weren't able to make their debut until Sunday night.
Thiam played two minutes after seeing game action in the second half. Thompson, a 6-11 Alexandria product, played in the last minute in the first overtime against Princeton.