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Minnesota bringing momentum into clash with Illinois

Jan 12, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Dawson Garcia (3) dribbles past Ohio State Buckeyes forward Brice Sensabaugh (10) during the first half at Value City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota coach Ben Johnson lauded his team’s resolve Thursday after the Golden Gophers rallied at Ohio State to earn their first Big Ten victory of the season.

In the next breath, Johnson reinforced the importance of staying persistent, a call Minnesota looks to answer when it faces Illinois on Monday night in Minneapolis.

“Now the challenge is to want more, and to use this as a springboard to continue to play the way that we are playing,” Johnson said. “And if you do that the wins and losses will take care of themselves. But we can’t get away from how we are playing right now.”

Benefiting from 50 percent shooting and a defense that limited Ohio State to 37.5 percent from the field, the Golden Gophers led for nearly 35 minutes of Thursday’s game.

Dawson Garcia matched a career high with 28 points for Minnesota (7-8, 1-4 Big Ten) while grabbing nine rebounds. Garcia was one board short of notching his second straight double-double.

“He’s a warrior,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t blink. He has an unbelievable way about him, man.”

Illinois (12-5, 3-3) enters on a three-game winning streak. After struggling to an 0-3 start in league play, the Fighting Illini defeated Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State by a combined 45 points over a seven-day span.

Monday’s game marks a homecoming of sorts for Illinois’ Dain Dainja, who scored 20 points to lead the team against Michigan State. Dainja is a native of Brooklyn Park, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities.

“All my family’s going to be at the game. I know most of the guys on the Gophers’ team,” Dainja said. “But, the same thing (as usual). We’re going to go watch film on them. It’s next game now. … They just won and beat Ohio State, so we’ve got to be ready for them.”

Illinois leads the all-time series between the schools 118-66, but the Golden Gophers can get to .500 at home against the Illini with a victory. Minnesota is 45-46 at home versus Illinois.

The visiting Illini topped the Golden Gophers 76-53 last season. Minnesota is seeking its first win against Illinois since Jan. 30, 2019.

–Field Level Media