Men’s basketball: Gophers roll over Texas-San Antonio

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With the ball in freshman guard Cam Christie’s hands in the closing seconds of the Gophers’ victory over the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners on Friday night at Williams Arena, the game’s outcome had long been decided, and the verdict was already in on Christie’s Gophers debut.

But with this team sitting on 99 points, Christie didn’t really have much choice. He let go a 3-pointer that found the bottom of the net — his fourth 3 of the game — adding an exclamation point to the Gophers’ 102-76 victory.

Christie, a 6-foot-6 guard from suburban Chicago, who missed the Gophers’ season-opening win over Bethune-Cookman due to illness, finished with 18 points and a big smile on his face.

“I had an idea,”  Gophers coach Ben Johnson said with a smile when asked if he knew Christie was going to shoot. “To his credit, I also knew he wasn’t going to force it. So it was good that he kind of got it in the rhythm and the flow of what we are trying to do.

“He didn’t just go and jack it. But, again, I think it’s how we’ve practiced, and how we’ve preached taking good shots and letting the ball move. There was a carryover of that tonight.”

What made Christie’s performance that much more impressive is the act that he has had little practice time due to the illness.

“It was rough to miss the scrimmage and the first two games,” he said. “My teammates did a good job of keeping me included, and I just had to stay confident in myself.

“I was cleared last Thursday and it was good to get back into the swing of things. And then it was good to get back out there.”

Johnson said he saw enough from Christie in practice to know that he was ready to contribute.

“He took good shots, shots that he’s taken in practice,” Johnson said. “He was playing with pace, and he didn’t really try to force the issue. He’s  good shooter, and he made them.”

The Gophers were without center Pharrel Payne, who Johnson said “tweaked” a foot injury he has been dealing with. Isaiah Ihnen took his place in the starting lineup, and all he  did was score 20 points on 7-for-7 shooting, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

Ihnen has made his way back after missing the past two seasons due to knee injuries.

“He’s a good player,” Johnson said. “The guy lives in the gym, sand his work ethic and getting up shots is second to none on our team. We preach to him, if you get your feet set the right ones are going to go in because they’re the right ones.”

Ihnen is just thrilled to be back on the floor.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “I’ve been out for two years and I didn’t know if there would ever be the day I would be back out here playing in a Gopher jersey. So just being out there and being able to compete, and to have the confidence of my coaches, there’s nothing that compares to that feeling.”

Junior forward Dawson Garcia, who led the Gophers with 23 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Bethune-Cookman, had another strong game, with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.

The Gophers took control of the game midway through the first half and led 54-30 at the intermission. Christie entered the game with the Gophers up 9-7. He missed his first shot but then rattled off three consecutive 3s to give the Gophers a 24-14 lead.

The Gophers limited the Roadrunners to 30.6 percent shooting in the first half and 40.8 percent for the game, allowing their opponent to few uncontested shots.

“We took some steps forward (defensively),” Johnson said. “We aren’t going to score 100 points every night, so we have to defend. We have very capable defensive players. we have to be able to rely on that.

“It’s a work in progress.”

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