MINNEAPOLIS – Brandon Johnson joined Minnesota as a graduate transfer in this pandemic-altered season, the adjustment to Big Ten play made even more challenging by a recent ankle injury.
He sure found his comfort zone against Iowa.
Johnson went 8 for 9 from 3-point range — making all four of his attempts in overtime — and finished with 26 points and nine rebounds to lead Minnesota's late surge for a 102-95 upset victory over No. 4 Iowa on Friday night.
After matching the single-game school record for 3-pointers made — more than he hit in each of his first two college seasons at Western Michigan — Johnson was mobbed by his teammates on the court in the otherwise-empty arena.
“I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life," said Johnson, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward who was 2 for 10 from 3-point range entering the game.
Marcus Carr had 30 points on 6-for-13 shooting from 3-point range and eight assists, and Liam Robbins added 18 points and four blocks for the Gophers (8-1, 1-1 Big Ten). They trailed by seven points with 44 seconds left in regulation and outscored the Hawkeyes 29-15 the rest of the way.
Luka Garza had 32 points and 17 rebounds for the Hawkeyes (7-2, 1-1), who allowed 99 points in their first loss last week to No. 1 Gonzaga. They were especially hard on themselves after this effort, allowing the Gophers to fall one made 3-pointer short of the single-game program record (18).
“Johnson was open. There was no excuse for that,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said.
When Johnson arrived at Western Michigan, he was discouraged from long-distance shooting, but consecutive summers of extra gym work helped him sharpen his 3-point shot even if he never lacked confidence in it. He went 22 for 66 last season from long range for the Broncos.
“I tried to make it an emphasis to show that I can do multiple things, instead of just scoring around the rim and being a hustle player,” Johnson said.
He can officially check that box.
“Obviously, we didn’t expect him to go 8 for 9, but once a guy gets rolling you’ve got to adjust,” Iowa's C.J. Fredrick said. “It doesn’t matter what his percentage is. He was just feeling it.”
Fredrick scored 23 points and Joe Wieskamp added 14 points and nine rebounds for Iowa, which let Carr make a stepback 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to bring Minnesota to 81-78.
Joe Toussaint, who made his four other free throw attempts in the final minute of regulation, missed a pair of foul shots. Then Carr hit the tying 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining, bringing the Gophers bench players leaping onto the court.
Johnson swished his shot from the wing just 13 seconds into the extra session. Robbins, who had his hands full guarding the nation's leading scorer in Garza, added the dagger 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in overtime for a 98-91 lead after the Gophers broke the Iowa press.
“We just let one guy shoot the same shot over and over again, and we can't do that," Garza said.
This game would have produced one of the most electric atmospheres of the season at Williams Arena, but with the gates closed it was relegated to Christmas Day television programming.
Iowa hadn't played on the Dec. 25 holiday since 1988. Minnesota found no record of any organized sporting event ever played by the school on Christmas Day.
“We play for each other in that locker room and it's no more evident now when you don’t have your fans there,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Our fans are great. I know that building would’ve been awesome, but most importantly that locker room was very excited and happy for each other.”
Iowa: The Hawkeyes leaned on their defense to beat Purdue 70-55 earlier this week, but that went missing when they needed it most at Minnesota. Garza, who went just 2 for 11 for five points in the first half, stretched his streak of 20-plus points to 18 consecutive Big Ten games.
Minnesota: This meat-grinder start of the Big Ten schedule, with the first eight conference games against opponents currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, is giving the Gophers as true of a test as Pitino has had in eight seasons.
Iowa: Hosts Northwestern on Tuesday.
Minnesota: Hosts Michigan State on Monday.