Over Indiana men’s basketball’s last three games, Xavier Johnson had 10 assists to 15 turnovers. He only scored over 10 points once, scoring 16 points against Ohio State while picking up six turnovers in Indiana’s 80-69 overtime loss.
Fans took to social media to express their frustration after the game, accusing Johnson of playing being too reckless on offense. It’s criticism that Johnson admits that he’s taken a look at even though his head coach tells him he shouldn’t.
“I see a lot of what a lot of people say,” Johnson said in a postgame press conference Thursday. “I’m an emotional player. I see it a lot.”
But his teammates still had faith in him. They’d seen him play at a high level and help lead the offense in winning efforts before this season, and believed he could do it again.
“A few rough games doesn’t define him,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said after the loss to Ohio State. “He had a few rough games earlier this season and then he bounced back and was playing the best ball that he’s played with us.”
Indiana was shorthanded at guard against Ohio State. Khristian Lander, Trey Galloway and Rob Phinisee weren’t able to play due to various injuries. The three were also unavailable against Maryland.
The Hoosiers were in the midst of a five-game losing streak with their NCAA Tournament hopes looking more and more bleak with each consecutive loss. They needed Johnson now more than ever.
And Johnson delivered, shooting 100% from the field and missing just a single free throw in Indiana’s 74-64 win Thursday night.
“I mean, you couldn’t have asked for a better performance,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “I’m very pleased.”
The night started slow for Johnson, who scored just 4 points in the first ten minutes of the game while also picking up two personal fouls and a turnover. He was subbed out for Tamar Bates after the second foul.
Indiana, which had scored 15 points in the first seven and a half minutes with Johnson, took the remaining thirteen and a half minutes to score 15 more. A late run by the Terrapins left the Hoosiers with a 30-27 lead at halftime.
Johnson reentered the game at the beginning of the second half, and would go on to play in all 20 minutes of it. It took two minutes and thirteen seconds for Johnson to show up on the stat sheet, just one second off from his first points in the first half.
Only this time, he kept going.
That first was an alley-oop to Jackson-Davis, which was quickly followed by a pair of made free throws. Then, just under a minute later, Johnson made the highlight play of the night.
The ball switched hands from Johnson to Miller Kopp, then back to Johnson. A screen from Jackson-Davis left three defenders between Johnson and the rim. They just weren’t enough to stop him.
He leapt into the air as the rest of Assembly Hall rose with him, slamming the ball through the rim for a thunderous dunk. Indiana’s fans shouted their approval and he roared right back.
But Johnson wasn’t just out there to create offense for himself. He’s a point guard, he’s meant to make the smart decisions that allow teammates to put points on the board, and he made sure to do that too.
Johnson could’ve had another dunk eight minutes later off of a steal, but there was a defender in prime position under the rim just waiting for him to try. Luckily for Johnson, Kopp was storming down the court just behind him.
He used himself as a diversion, passing the ball at the last second for an alley-oop, which Kopp gladly guided through the rim for a dunk of his own. That gave Indiana an 8-point lead with just over eight minutes left in the game.
Indiana’s next scoring opportunity came one minute later with free throws from Jackson-Davis. He missed both, airballing the second. Johnson went over to him after the second miss with words of encouragement and a pat on the back.
Johnson was there for his teammate, just like Jackson-Davis had been there for him after the Ohio State loss. The next time Jackson-Davis went to the line, he sank both free throws.
At this point, every shot had gone in for Johnson. He was perfect from the field and made every free throw. His first and only miss finally came on a free throw with just 19 seconds left. Not that there was much to worry about, Indiana had a firm 12-point lead at that point.
Rather than exiting to find critical comments from fans on Twitter, Johnson and the Hoosiers, losing streak vanquished, were applauded off the court by Indiana’s fans.
“These guys are not quitting,” Woodson said. “I’m telling you that now, They’re competing every night. And that’s all we can ask for, man.”