Xavier Johnson’s senior season with IU has been a seesaw affair.
Against Ohio State, the Hoosiers were forced to lean even more than normal on him as the lone available point guard on the roster due to injuries to Rob Phinisee, Khristian Lander, and Trey Galloway. They needed Johnson to lead the offense for all but six minutes of the game.
But he could not make a positive impact to start things off in Columbus.
Johnson was hurting Indiana more than he was helping them with five first-half turnovers. To make matters worse, he was shooting just 1-of-5 from the field with a foul.
But the halftime break reinvigorated Johnson. He cleaned up his act and had no turnovers in the second half and just one in overtime. He also scored 12 points on 2-of-7 shooting but managed to make all eight of his free throws.
“I just tried to slow because most of my turnovers were unforced. I was making bad passes,” Johnson said after the game. “Then I just got control and started playing to myself.”
The game resembled the rollercoaster ride of inconsistent performances Johnson has taken the team on throughout the season. For the first part of the season, Johnson was still learning a new offense and what was needed to run head coach Mike Woodson’s system.
In the first matchup against Wisconsin, Johnson shot 4-of-16 and attempted many low percentage shots down the stretch, practically shooting the Hoosiers out of the game. A few games later against Notre Dame, he had 11 points but on 3-of-11 shooting and four turnovers. Hoosier fans were starting to become impatient and jeered at Johnson.
Following that brutal stretch of games, Johnson seemed to be turning into the player that Woodson and the coaching staff thought they were getting from Pittsburgh. Against Minnesota, he came firing out of the gate with 10 first-half points on his way to a 14-point, 5-assists, and just one turnover performance.
Aside from Phinisee– who nailed the game-winning shot–, Johnson was also another hero in the game against Purdue. He was responsible for the first eight points of the game with two layups, two free throws, and an early alley-oop to Trayce Jackson-Davis, which energized the crowd and set the tone for the game.
He continued to impact the game and finished as the second-leading scorer on the night for the Hoosiers with 18 points. He also added two assists to no turnovers.
In many ways, as goes Johnson, so go the Hoosiers.
He’s averaging 11 points in wins, 9.5 in losses. He’s shooting 44.1 percent from the field in wins including 40.5 percent from three, and 30.8 percent from the field in losses, including 18.2 percent from three. He’s averaging 2.25 turnovers in wins, 3.33 in losses.
In the past four games he has a total of 17 turnovers and just 15 assists. Over the past five contests, all IU losses, he has made just 14-of-54 shots (25.9 percent).
“He’s gonna be okay,” said Trayce Jackson-Davis on Wednesday referring to Johnson’s recent struggles.
“A few rough games doesn’t define him. 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.”
Johnson’s teammates know how important he is to the team’s success. They desperately need his help to turn the season around.
“We just got to stay on him and stay in his head and talk good thoughts because, especially right now with all the negative energy surrounding our program, we can’t have guys fracturing especially inside,” said Jackson-Davis.
The last time Indiana battled Thursday’s opponent, the Maryland Terrapins, the Woodbridge, Va. product put on a terrific passing display. On one play, he weaved through defenders on a fast break and went up for the layup, before later sending a wrap-around pass to a wide-open Galloway for the score. He ended the game with eight points and nine assists.
The Hoosiers need that same playmaking and intensity that Johnson showed against the Terrapins. His teammates will continue to support him by keeping the ball in his hands and trusting him to make plays.
“We’re all we got and we’re going to keep telling him to just do things such as shoot the ball, make plays because we need that from him,” added Jackson-Davis.
Indiana is on its last breath to make the NCAA Tournament. The latest from BracketMatrix.com has Indiana clinging to life as a No. 12 seed.
However, before worrying about the Tournament, Woodson, and Co. need to focus on ending their current five-game losing skid and not getting caught up on the past. Not their past history of poor play in February, and not Johnson’s struggles.
“It’s demoralizing to lose but you just can’t feed off of that. You gotta be ready for the next game because college basketball comes quick. You gotta game two-to-three days, and if you’re still living in the past then you’re never going to get over the hump. So, you got to keep going and keep building,” said Jackson-Davis.
“X(avier) is down on himself right now, and a lot of guys on our team are, so I’m just going to keep trying to pick them up because I’ve already been through this situation, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help us win.”
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