Xavier Johnson followed up his 24 point performance Thursday night with another 24 points at Minnesota, leading the Indiana offense to a second straight victory and preserving its tournament hopes. The Hoosiers led by as many as 27 points before the Gophers made a late 16-2 run to make things slightly uncomfortable near the end. With postseason opportunities hanging in the balance, Indiana was able to close it out and move back to .500 in conference play.
Here’s Three Things
Finally, More Offense
Including Xavier Johnson’s team-high 24 points, Indiana had four players in double-digit scoring, while two others finished not far behind with eight points. Both Miller Kopp and Jordan Geronimo stepped up with 10 points each tonight and Trayce Jackson-Davis added a quiet 14 points in one of the more balanced Indiana offensive performances of late. Rob Phinisee returned to the lineup tonight for the first time since he went down with an injury over a month ago and contributed another eight points in nine minutes off the bench.
Probably the most refreshing thing about tonight was Indiana’s 3-point shooting. The Hoosiers shot 47.8% (10-21) from deep tonight with five different players hitting at least one three. Xavier Johnson hit four of his six attempts in another stellar shooting performance and both Miller Kopp and Rob hit two of their four 3-pointers. Indiana had not hit 10 3-pointers in a game since it made 11 in a double-overtime loss to Syracuse on November 30, 2021.
While it may not be easily repeatable, Indiana’s shooting tonight was really the only reason it was able to weather Minnesota’s late surge and avoid another late collapse.
A Win is a Win
In a perfect world, Indiana would have kept it’s foot on the gas and cruised to a comfortable 10-15 point victory and we would have all moved on with our lives. But because Indiana faltered a bit at the end, there will of course be some #discourse as to whether this team is mentally tough enough to make it to the tournament. Ugly or not, tonight preserved Indiana’s bubble hopes and it took good 3-point shooting plus clutch free throws - Indiana’s two greatest weaknesses - for the Hoosiers to get the win.
Indiana hit 70% of its free throws as a team at Minnesota tonight, which is only slightly better than the team average for the season. More importantly, though, it hit free throws when it mattered. The offense stalled at the end and the Hoosiers didn’t score a basket in the final 3:30 of play, but they hit 10-13 free throws to seal the game. Tonight’s 47.8% 3-point rate is a full 12% higher than the season average.
Again, tonight’s shooting was a complete statistical anomaly, unlikely to happen again with this group. Still, it’s good to see Indiana dig deep and pull out an improbable performance with the season on the line. There’s some fight left.
Part of the misery of life on the bubble is that games like tonight’s and Thursday’s had all the potential to ruin Indiana’s resume in the worst case scenario, but don’t do much to prove to doubters that the Hoosiers are a tournament team. Beating Rutgers, which has now lost its last three games to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Purdue, would be a little more helpful. Especially when you consider that Rutgers was also considered something of a fringe tournament team a few weeks ago.
Purdue is currently favored in next Saturday’s game, as it was in the first matchup this season. An upset at Mackey would probably put the Hoosiers safely in, barring an embarrassing loss in the Big Ten Tournament.
Regardless, Wednesday’s game against the Scarlet Knights will be another must-win and should be very winnable. Kenpom gives the Hoosiers a 70% chance of victory. Hopefully that means it won’t take another incredible shooting performance to stave off collapse.