For the second time this season, Ron Harper Jr. hit a very later jumper to defeat a team from the state of Indiana. While the first shot gave Purdue the dubious distinction of being only the fifth team to lose its first game as the AP No. 1, last night’s buzzer beater may have ended Indiana’s tournament hopes. At 18-11 (9-10), the Hoosiers have one more regular season game remaining before the Big Ten Tournament.
Here’s Three Things
You’ve Seen This One Before
Indiana lost last night in much the same way that it’s lost games over the past four or five years; the offense stalled out completely and the Hoosiers had no answer to a feisty Rutgers team that fought back a few times and refused to die. Indiana went 6-21 (28.6%) from 3-point range last night, regressing fully into Archie mode until Parker Stewart hit a late three to tie the game with ten seconds and give Indiana a chance. With the game on the line, Indiana actually regressed even further to Crean mode, and failed to inbound the ball.
At the end of the day, it seems that this team was simply not able to exorcise enough of the demons from the past few years to take the full step forward that many fans were hoping for. There were signs of progress. The defense, freed from the miserable pack line, turned into one of the elite units in the country. Outside of last night, Indiana had actually improved as a 3-point shooting team, even with minimal help from shooting specialist Miller Kopp.
And yet, with one regular season game remaining, the Hoosiers are likely on the outside looking in for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Whatever curse is on this program hasn’t fully gone away yet, and Mike Woodson will probably have to wait another year before he gets the Hoosiers dancing again.
Xavier Johnson: Hoosier Hero
Last night’s game would have been much, much uglier if not for Xavier Johnson’s second half heroics. Rutgers overcame a 7 point deficit in the second half and even took the lead with 15 minutes remaining before Xavier Johnson single-handedly fought back to keep Indiana in the game. Twice in a two-minute span, Johnson stole the ball and scored on the ensuing fast break, preventing the Scarlet Knights from really breaking things open during their run. Johnson then used his agitator powers for good to draw a flagrant two from Paul Mulcahy with 19 seconds remaining, giving Indiana two free throws and the ball in a one possession game.
Indiana hasn’t had a player like Johnson, who can and will take over the game when needed, in years. His competitive edge is contagious, and he even got Rob Phinisee hyping the crowd up a bit during that crucial second half stretch. Without him, Indiana would have lost its last two games and already removed itself from tournament contention.
Even if this year’s results don’t fully reflect it, landing somebody like Xavier is a huge step for a first year coach like Mike Woodson, who needs to change the program’s culture in a big way to get Indiana out of this rut. The future is bright so long as Woodson can bring in more Dudes like XJ.
Out of Indiana’s Hands Now
At 18-11, Indiana still has something of an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Losing last night simply means that it will take a little more luck. Saturday’s matchup at Purdue gives the Hoosiers a huge opportunity to add a quality road win. Even under Archie, Indiana has turned in some surprising Big Ten Tournament appearances with its back against the wall, like when Devonte Green almost shot the Hoosiers back into tournament contention against Ohio State in 2019.
Personally, I will not be holding my breath. Especially since Purdue lost a heartbreaker on the road in Madison earlier this week and will likely want to take their anger out on our poor Hoosiers. Plus, Indiana is historically an awful Big Ten Tournament team.
Stranger things have happened though, and maybe Mike Woodson has enough magic to get this team over the hump in year one.