Dawson Garcia did his best superhero impression when he put on an invisible cape and nearly erased a 22-point Gophers deficit single-handedly Sunday at Ohio State.
But Garcia needed a sidekick or two to complete the task.
The Gophers saw their 6-11 junior standout explode for a career-high 36 points Sunday, including 28 points in the second half in the 84-74 loss in Columbus.
Figuring out ways to develop the supporting cast around Garcia has been an ongoing challenge for the Gophers (5-3, 0-1 in the Big Ten), who play host to Nebraska in Wednesday's Big Ten home opener.
"Obviously, Dawson has to get an early look," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said. "But we have [other] capable players who can go make a play."
If Garcia again finds himself in another battle and his superpowers alone aren't enough, who could he turn to for help? Four aren't even starters.
In last week's 97-64 win against New Orleans, the Gophers generated their most efficient game offensively across the board, including shooting 59% from the field, their best mark since 2018.
Payne's season-high 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in only 17 minutes was a big reason easier shots opened up for others on the perimeter. The 6-9, 255-pound sophomore had only six points vs. Ohio State, but he took only six shots in a season-high 31 minutes. His presence alone at center allowed Garcia to play his natural position as a stretch power forward.
Is it finally time for Johnson to put Payne in the starting lineup for the first time since the season opener? It might be because Payne's minutes restriction dealing with a foot injury is expected to be lifted.
"This is the first time all year he's continuing to go through practices with no reps off," Johnson said. "He's really going to be playing starter minutes whether I do [start him] or not."
In an 18-point loss at San Francisco last month, Cam Christie definitely looked like a freshman playing in his first college road game. He wasn't dribbling the ball with confidence. The entire backcourt struggled to take care of the ball, but some of his passes were easily picked off for turnovers.
As a former four-star recruit with several Big Ten offers, Christie has undeniable talent, but his experience needed to catch up a bit. And in his second road game Sunday, the 6-6 sharpshooter looked pretty comfortable in scoring nine of his 11 points in the second half, including a three-pointer to cut the Ohio State lead to 72-66 with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left.
Christie, who had a season-high 20 points vs. New Orleans, ranks second on the team in scoring (11.0) and first in three-point percentage (51.7) while coming off the bench.
"I've always been a confident player in myself," Christie said Sunday. "But if we want to win more games down the line, I'm going to have to be better. Everyone is going to have to be better."
MIKE MITCHELL JR.
Mike Mitchell Jr.'s college career began with him starting all 63 games at Pepperdine in two seasons. But the Gophers have used him as the backup point guard in the first eight games.
Trying to figure out how to impact the game off the bench has been an adjustment for Mitchell, but he has shown signs of improvement.
A 14-point, five-assist performance vs. New Orleans was a welcome sight, but he also played solid extended minutes down the stretch vs. Ohio State.
Mitchell took only one shot in the second half Sunday, but he had only one turnover in 24 minutes. He also seems to like playing together with Elijah Hawkins, the starting point guard.
"I think we both can create for each other, and both can shoot the ball to space the floor for Dawson and Pharrel," Mitchell said.
There are two players on the Gophers' roster who have experience winning at a high level. Hawkins went to the NCAA tournament at Howard last season, but there's another guy in that category who might be ready for a bigger role: Parker Fox.
Fox, a freshman at Northern State (S.D.) when it advanced to the Division II national championship game in 2018, has been waiting two years after major knee injuries to show he can help Johnson's program. He currently plays less than 10 minutes a game.
If the dunks that counted and didn't in the U's last home game are any indication, the 6-8 senior is ready to bring energy to his teammates and the crowd whenever he gets the chance.