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    HomeSportsGophers forward Parker Fox makes impact felt, subbing for Pharrel Payne

    Gophers forward Parker Fox makes impact felt, subbing for Pharrel Payne


    Gophers coach Ben Johnson knew he would be missing starting center Pharrel Payne for last Saturday’s game at Penn State, but he wasn’t sure how to replace that inside presence.

    There was a glaring defensive hole in the paint at first, but Parker Fox eventually helped to fill that void with his season-high four blocks in the 83-74 win in State College.

    Johnson said on his radio show Tuesday that he didn’t know if the Gophers would’ve snapped their four-game losing streak Saturday without Fox’s impact off the bench, including 11 points.

    “Obviously he contributed a lot,” Johnson said. “He did a good job of being engaged and making winning plays when he was in there.”

    Fox, a 6-8 senior from Mahtomedi, averages 3.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 11.6 minutes this season. Seven of his 16 blocks this year have been in the last two games, including three in the second half against the Nittany Lions.

    Fox’s first swat in the second half came after sprinting from one end of the floor to erase Kanye Clary’s layup attempt off the backboard. The ball ricocheted back to the Gophers, leading to a basket for a four-point lead.

    A late dunk from Fox on a pass from Elijah Hawkins with 2:18 left in the game also gave the Gophers the go-ahead score, 72-70.

    Johnson said Fox’s “momentum blocks” changed the course of a game that was going to be very tough to win after trailing by 16 points, especially on the road.

    “It really connects the team with energy,” Johnson said. “We have a team where somebody different could step up.”

    Just seeing Fox play at all this season was an inspiration to the Gophers. Fox and veteran forward Isaiah Ihnen missed two straight seasons with knee injuries, but now their presence has provided frontcourt depth.

    On Tuesday, Johnson said Payne was “doing good” in recovery and hopeful to return Saturday against Northwestern, but Fox is ready to help if needed.

    “It was a bonus to be able to rest [Payne] and get the win,” Johnson said. “Hopefully this week his back responds accordingly and we’ll see what he’s got to go this weekend possibly.”

    Tourney disagreement

    The Big Ten on Tuesday announced new scheduling formats for men’s and women’s hoops with the addition of Oregon, Washington, USC, and UCLA making it an 18-team league next season.

    Conference play will remain the same with a 20-game schedule. Not so much with the postseason.

    Johnson said he wasn’t in favor of the conference deciding to make only the top 15 teams eligible for the Big Ten tournament starting next season. That would not allow the bottom three teams in the standings to be in the conference tourney for the first time.

    “You could have a bunch of teams that are really good smashed in that bottom third,” he said. “You wish you had a way where you could play it out. What’s one more day? However, you can configure it. There would be no coach who would say, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ It was kind of unanimous with a lot of coaches wondering about that.”



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