The first Big Ten win in Ben Johnson's head coaching career came last December in a Gophers upset at Michigan. Players showered their rookie coach with water bottles in the locker room.
That postgame scene captured a moment that seems far away from being duplicated a year later, after a fourth straight Gophers loss Thursday, falling 90-75 in a rematch in front of an announced crowd of 10,004 at Williams Arena.
Michigan's 90 points were the most given up in a game by the U since Illinois' 93 points in 2020-21.
"I got to do a better job on game night to get them to compete like they practice," Johnson said. "They just didn't have that look of being ready and that's 100 percent on me."
Some fans started to exit the Barn with the Gophers trailing by 32 points midway through the second half. There had to be doubt creeping in about whether Johnson's team can improve on the previous season's last-place conference finish.
The Gophers (4-5) dropped their first two Big Ten games in blowout fashion this year, but the conference-opening 89-70 loss Sunday was at Big Ten title favorite Purdue.
The Wolverines (6-3, 1-0) were supposed to be more vulnerable playing without starting guard Jaelin Llewellyn, who is out for the season with a knee injury. They still shot 53% from the field and hit seven of their 10 threes in the first half Thursday to lead by as much as 24 points.
Michigan's 7-1 center Hunter Dickinson finished with 13 of his team-high 19 points in the first half. Dickinson's setting the tone was reminiscent of Sunday, when Purdue's man-mountain Zach Edey finished with 31 points and 22 rebounds.
The Wolverines' three-guard starting lineup of sophomore Kobe Bufkin, freshman Jett Howard and freshman Dug McDaniel combined for 44 points and 14 assists.
"We just couldn't seem to get stops," said Ta'Lon Cooper, who led the Gophers with 16 points and five assists. "They were hitting a lot of shots and that gave them confidence really early."
There's no debating this year's team has more talent. A promising freshman class. Impactful transfers. Figuring out how those pieces work together and overcome inexperience in the Big Ten is a work in progress.
Last season's top scorer, Jamison Battle, who had 21 points Sunday at Purdue, is fully healthy coming off foot surgery. Battle and Dawson Garcia combined for 24 points Thursday, but they weren't a major factor in the game. That says something.
The Gophers trailed by 15 points by the time Battle scored his second basket. The Wolverines at that point shot 5-for-5 on threes, and they forced nine of 16 turnovers in the first half.
Cooper playing at a faster pace and more aggressive was contagious. He had a team-high 12 points in the first half, including a three to cut it to 40-27. That gave the Gophers a 10-0 run, but they would never get any closer.
The home crowd hadn't completely left their seats when several underclassmen who are still going through severe growing pains flashed their potential, including Pharrel Payne (15 points off the bench) treating fans to a late dunk show that meant little to the outcome.
The Gophers, who won the rebounding battle 36-33 and scored 40 points in the paint, still allowed Michigan to shoot with too much confidence. That defensive effort was poor timing with No. 23 Mississippi State coming to town to play Sunday.
"We didn't have any presence defensively," Johnson said. "You can't let them just live in their comfort zone. You have to force misses. You can't just hope that a team misses."