STARKVILLE, MISS. — The Gophers men's basketball team had one of the thinnest benches in college basketball before Sean Sutherlin became unavailable for Sunday's game at Mississippi State.
But Sutherlin watched from the bench in street clothes as his teammates rallied without him to stay unbeaten with an 81-76 victory against the Bulldogs.
Sutherlin, who averages 9.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19 minutes, is day to day because of a knee injury. Senior forward Danny Ogele was also out because of a non-COVID illness and didn't make the trip.
"We won't dwell on it," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said. "Hopefully we get those guys back. It's going to be a game-to-game deal. But our guys are so locked in right now that we know just whoever is in the game is going to find a way to help us win and contribute."
Missing Sutherlin had the potential to be a game-changing blow, considering he had been one of the U's most impactful transfers during a 6-0 start. The 6-5 senior guard from New Brighton had three consecutive double-figure scoring games last month, including 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the 78-49 Nov. 19 victory against Purdue Fort Wayne.
Forward Charlie Daniels was the only other Gophers reserve averaging double figures in minutes. He struggled with more fouls (nine) than points and rebounds combined (eight) in the previous three games, but Daniels made his presence felt Sunday.
The 6-9 senior threw down a massive put-back dunk for his only points in the first half, but he also finished with three rebounds and two blocks in nine minutes.
Freshman guard Abdoulaye Thiam and sophomore walk-on guard Will Ramberg played a combined five minutes, but the starters still got little rest. Four of the U's five starters played at least 38 minutes, including sophomore forward Jamison Battle playing all 40 minutes.
"That's the fun part about this group is that we don't really bat an eye," Johnson said. "We hope those guys are back soon. But if not, the guys in the game and on this team are going to find a way to figure it out."
Family in attendance
Senior captains Payton Willis and Eric Curry, who combined for 36 points against Mississippi State, had several family members in the crowd to watch Sunday's big road victory.
Willis, who is from Fayetteville, Ark., said seeing familiar faces gave him an extra boost. Curry almost had an entire section cheering for him behind the bench coming from Memphis and Arkansas.
"It's great," Willis said. "It's like a reunion and coming full circle. This was my first offer [from Mississippi State]. So to be able to win here was special."