Gophers latest loss overshadowed by Dennis Evans’ exit – Twin Cities

Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga (30) reacts after a timeout call from Minnesota during an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb. (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)

The Gophers men’s basketball team played three games this week but lost four.

Minnesota’s most recent loss on the court came Saturday, 78-67 to Nebraska, extending the Gophers’ bottom-ranked losing streak to 12 games since Jan. 12.

The Gophers’ long, road-weary week will have more lasting reverberations because four-star Center signee Dennis Evans III has resigned from his national memorandum of understanding for Minnesota. Evans filed papers for his release from his NLI later this week, which two sources said were approved by the Gophers on Saturday.

After making his verbal commitment to Minnesota in October, Evans signed an NLI in November, but one of the nation’s top center prospects had concerns as he watched the Gophers’ season. A source expressed a factor in the decision, saying it wasn’t about the size of the losses but that there wasn’t enough focus on newcomers.

The Gophers quartet of freshmen each played an average of 20 minutes per game. Ben Johnson has worked to coach them through their growing pains while linking the youngsters to veteran presences including Dartmouth signing Taurus Samuels, who has averaged 18 minutes and made 13 starts this season.

Gophers freshman guard Jaden Henley, a friend and former AAU teammate of Evans, made his 14th start in 26 games on Saturday; He started the season on the starting lineup in November and December but came off the bench until returning to a starting role in February. Josh Ola-Joseph has made 19 starts and Pharrel Payne has four, while Braeden Carrington has only come off the bench this season.

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According to a source, Evans’ decision to leave Minnesota was described as very difficult. Appearing introverted and shy, the young man from Riverside, Calif., had a hard time breaking the news to Gophers coaches, especially his main recruiter, assistant coach Marcus Jenkins.

A source stressed that opportunities to generate revenue from Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) were not a reason for Evans to change course. If NIL opportunities were important to Evans, he would not have signed with Minnesota in November, the source said.

The Gophers’ NIL collective, Dinkytown Athletics, works with the athletic department’s compliance office and does not provide NIL offers to players before they arrive on campus. Dinkytown Athletes held discussions and meetings with Evans representatives about NIL. The collective provided a fund for NIL opportunities, and there were contracts to offer Evans shortly after he arrived on campus in June, a source told Pioneer Press.

The source said Evans’ camp is interested in the NIL opportunities available to Evans and the exposure he could potentially receive.

dozen defeats

Minnesota and Nebraska finished bottom in the Big Ten with tied 4-16 records a season ago, but Saturday’s game at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., underscored how they’ve moved in different directions since then.

The Cornhuskers doubled last year’s conference win to eight with their fourth straight win, while Minnesota stuck with one conference win and remains alone at the bottom of the standings.

The Gophers pressed Nebraska 81-79 after overtime on Jan. 7 at Williams Arena and cut a 14-point lead to six with seven minutes left on Saturday. But Minnesota’s 19 turnovers were the main reason they couldn’t break the six-week losing slide.

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“We’ve done a handful of good things, (but) turnovers, they’ve knocked us down,” Johnson said on KFXN-FM’s postgame show. “When you outrebound a team and force them to shoot 26 percent from 3 and (we) did a good job guarding them at half court. You shoot 66 (percent) off the line and we shoot 100. Then the next minute is a turnover and (it’s) those extra possessions that you lose.

Jamison Battle and Pharrel Payne led Minnesota by 12 points each.

Henley added 11 points with Johnson leading the defensive effort Henley made against Keisei Tominaga who finished with 11 points. “I thought Jaden did an amazing job at Tominaga,” Johnson said. “…For a freshman he’s got tears in his eyes lately.”

Carrington suffered a left leg injury with four minutes remaining. He needed help to get to the bank and did not return.


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