Indiana got probably its most impressive win of the season tonight with a 71-65 victory over an Ohio State team that was projected to come into Assembly Hall and win. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the Hoosiers back on the right track after an embarrassing loss in Lincoln.
At 36 in the NET rankings entering tonight, Ohio State has potential to be the Hoosiers first Quad 1 win of the season, so long as they play well the rest of the season. Indiana entered the game winless in the top quadrant but had yet to suffer a loss in any of the lower three.
There have been questions about this team’s mental toughness and resilience entering today, but this was another game that Indiana had plenty of chances to lose. After a frustrating end to the first half, the Buckeyes opened the second half on a run that gave them their biggest lead of the game at nine.
Then Mike Woodson switched to a smaller lineup that stifled Ohio State’s offense and managed enough points to withstand a poor rebounding night from Indiana. The Buckeyes fought to make it close at the end, but Indiana hit its free throws, took care of the ball, and got a rebound when it counted to walk away with a win.
Here’s Three Things we learned:
Before getting into the outstanding individual performances Indiana got tonight, it’s worth looking at how it improved as a team over its poor showing at Nebraska.
After turning it over 19 times against the Cornhuskers, the Hoosiers turned it over just four times tonight, including a single turnover in the second half. Indiana also forced 14 turnovers tonight and finally cashed in on that effort with 22 points off turnovers.
Ohio State missed a few open looks but the Hoosiers still managed to keep a 37% 3-point shooting team to just 25.9% on a whopping 27 attempts. On the other end of the floor, Indiana hit five of its 12 3-point attempts, continuing the trend of better shooting we’ve seen of late.
Finally, Indiana also utilized the three guard line up that fans had been hoping for this year. Knowing that this team is able to match a smaller, quicker team like that is a huge relief after how Nebraska’s backcourt tore up Indiana.
The obvious next step is addressing defensive adjustments, and I hope the increased 3-point percentage leads to a higher volume. Tonight showed that this team and coaching staff are capable of making those kinds of changes though and working with the roster it has.
This is the Xavier Johnson that Indiana needs. He finished with 18 points, three assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal while committing zero turnovers. Last game, he had four turnovers in the first half.
Most importantly, Johnson hit the big shots and made the big plays that you would expect from a sixth year senior. He grabbed an offensive rebound off his own missed free throw to seal the game at the end, made two huge 3-pointers, and managed the game well in what ended up being his second-highest minute total on the year.
It wasn’t exactly a secret at this point, but Indiana is going to live and die a lot with Xavier Johnson this year. There’s nobody on the roster that can break a guy down off the dribble consistently and defend the best guards in the Big Ten.
Now that we know there aren’t any nagging physical issues keeping him from playing his best, we can only hope we get more nights like this and fewer games like Wednesday’s.
The way C.J. Gunn played tonight is why people think that this Indiana team has potential to be better than last year’s. He brought energy, a scoring burst, and solid defense in 24 minutes off the bench tonight, outscoring Trey Galloway and joining Johnson as the only member of the backcourt to hit a 3-pointer.
Indiana doesn’t necessarily need to have Gunn play like this every night, but if he can build off the confidence, things might turn around for the Hoosiers quickly. One of the biggest problems for this team has been backcourt depth and scoring.
If Gunn can keep playing like this, Indiana suddenly has a true four guard rotation that won’t demand 34 minutes from Xavier Johnson or 28 point nights from Trey Galloway. He has the physical tools to defend and score in the Big Ten, so let’s hope he only improves as he becomes more confident.
(Bonus) Fourth Thing: Malik Reneau
We didn’t learn anything we didn’t know about his game, but Malik Reneau’s performance tonight deserves attention. He led Indiana with 23 points and hit another 3-pointer, putting him at 47.8% on the season.
Reneau also managed to stay on the floor tonight, committing just three fouls in a team-high 37 minutes tonight. Without his 19 second half points, Indiana has no shot at completing this comeback.
Opposing teams know that the ball is going to him and that he wants to get to his left, but his footwork and developing right handed shot make him nearly unstoppable inside. Add in the fact that he’s becoming a 3-point threat and he may be Indiana’s best offensive player.
We’ve said it before, but his improvement from last year is another feather in the cap of Mike Woodson, who has already had success in coaching Trayce Jackson-Davis to the NBA. Young bigs, take note.