Indiana went from being down by 11 points with 13:32 left in the game to being up by four with just over a minute left in the game, only to lose by 11 in overtime. The loss was Indiana’s fifth in a row and leaves the Hoosiers just four more chances to shore up their tournament resume before the Big Ten Tournament. As it stands, we’re probably due for three more weeks of bubble talk before an uncomfortable Selection Sunday.
Here’s Three Things:
The Xavier Johnson Experience
With Trey Galloway, Rob Phinisee, and Khristian Lander all out tonight with injuries, Indiana had no choice but to live and die with Xavier Johnson, which partially explains why the entire game was such a rollercoaster ride. Johnson had a rough start to the game, committing five turnovers in the first ten minutes before Woodson pulled him for a stretch. Tamar Bates and Anthony Leal ran the offense in Johnson’s absence and it was predictably ugly until Parker Stewart twice bailed them out with long threes.
Johnson responded well to the benching and wound up being Indiana’s leading scorer with 16 points, 10 of which came from the free throw line. While he shad a rough shooting night as a whole, Johnson’s free throws, passing, and driving kept Indiana in the game for way longer than it should have been. He committed just one more turnover after he was benched and finished the night with four assists.
Of course, the full Xavier Johnson experience is not limited to measurable statistics, and we were also treated to some of his finest acting performances. He may have drawn an extra foul or two, but he also extended an already-miserable game by getting into a dramatic tie up with E.J. Liddell that resulted in a double foul and more Ohio State free throws.
Indiana played tough basketball
Indiana made up for another abysmal offensive performance by bringing a level of intensity that truly looked like it could save the season for a stretch there in the second half. Indiana grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, generating invaluable second chance opportunities for a team that struggles to score outside of the paint. The Hoosiers also brought down 23 defensive rebounds, limiting Ohio State to just seven offensive rebounds tonight.
Tamar Bates also played a more aggressive style tonight than he has throughout most of conference play so far this season. He finished with seven points, including a ridiculous step-back jumper with just under three minutes to play that gave Indiana another four point lead. It wasn’t his best shooting night, but it was nice to see him be more assertive and confident in his shot at big moments in the game.
Parker Stewart also had a nice night with 11 points on 3-4 3-point shooting. He took a career-high five 2-point attempts as well since he had to initiate a bit more of the offense with so many guards out with injuries.
Indiana did not play smart basketball
Indiana should have won that game in regulation, just as they should have won in Evanston and should have beaten Wisconsin. Unfortunately, this is still not a team that knows how to win. On the play that sent the game to overtime, Big Ten player of the year candidate E.J. Liddell was left wide open for one of the easiest dunks of his life. He probably could have burned another second or two off of the game clock if had had the presence of mind to wait until an Indiana player finally found him and recovered to the play. Xavier Johnson, who had yet to make a 3-pointer, took Indiana’s final shot as time expired despite Parker Stewart being on the floor.
Some of this falls on Mike Woodson. I appreciate the confidence he has in his players and how that has essentially saved Rob Phinisee’s career, but this is not an NBA roster. There are only a handful of players on this roster scoring with any consistency right now; Trayce Jackson-Davis, Parker Stewart, and Race Thompson. None of these three players took a shot in the final three minutes of regulation.
Tamar Bates and Xavier Johnson each played hard tonight, but they combined to go 6-23 from the floor and still took Indiana’s last three shots tonight. Woodson would probably do well to go to the more proven scorers down the stretch in these games instead of letting young guys like Tamar continue to get shots up.
In a vacuum, I love that Woodson let Bates take big shots to find his way out of a bit of a freshman slump. Indiana’s tournament hopes are dwindling though, and I, for one, am sick of the constant bubble talk.