Gophers coach Ben Johnson is finding out a great deal about his basketball team's depth while playing without leading scorer Dawson Garcia.
With Garcia in street clothes recovering from an ankle injury Saturday, his Gophers teammates struggled early to get into rhythm.
But after trailing by nine points in the first half, the Gophers relied on their defense until shots began to fall after a sluggish start to beat Florida Gulf Coast 77-57 at Williams Arena.
"They were way more physical, and their motor was better for the first 20 minutes," Johnson said about the Eagles. "If we didn't defend, bring and match that intensity, it was going to be a long [game]."
The Gophers (7-3) experienced life without Garcia for most of Wednesday's 76-65 comeback win vs. Nebraska. They brought more energy in the second half Saturday afternoon with a 32-7 run, while also scoring 26 points off 14 turnovers.
Joshua Ola-Joseph had 11 of his career-high tying 17 points in the first half. Elijah Hawkins had his second straight game with 11 assists (to go with just two turnovers) for the Gophers, who finished with 23 assists and just seven turnovers.
"When you're able to create turnovers, play in transition and get easy baskets, it's a momentum swing," Johnson said. "It's deflating for the other team."
Florida Gulf Coast (3-8) gave Indiana a scare in a 69-63 loss last month, so it had confidence early to lead 14-5 Saturday. But the Eagles were outscored 32-19 and trailed by four points at halftime at the Barn.
"Our starts have been the issue, and that's what we're trying to overcome," Ola-Joseph said. "We always play hard in the second half, and it shows like in the Nebraska game."
On Wednesday, the Gophers trailed by 15 points at halftime before outscoring the Cornhuskers 52-26 in the second half for their first Big Ten win.
In the second half Saturday, Florida Gulf Coast cut it to 43-41 after a three-point play by Keeshawn Kellman. But the Gophers responded with a 16-1 run capped by Mike Mitchell Jr.'s three-pointer for a 57-42 lead. Mitchell Jr. scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
"Coming out with that fire and not taking anything for granted," said Isaiah Ihnen, who broke out of a slump with 13 points on 3-for-3 shooting from three. "I feel like that's the way we can definitely start off better."
The Gophers were playing small with Garcia and reserve big man Jack Wilson (hip) sidelined. Pharrel Payne, who started at center, was limited to four minutes in the second half to rest his lingering foot injury. Starting guard Braeden Carrington was questionable with a sore ankle, so he played just 5 ½ minutes in the second half.
Getting Garcia back to 100% is the biggest priority moving forward. The Gophers should get the opportunity to rest him for more than a week, as Johnson's team has a nine-day break from playing after Tuesday's game against IUPUI at home.
"We're in no rush to do anything with him," Johnson said of Garcia. "My odds are, he will not play in the next game. We need to be really smart and calculated with how we handle that."