The Hoosiers played well for three-quarters of the game but saw a 27-point lead shrink to a five-point win over Minnesota.
With eight minutes left, the Gophers caught fire. They went on a 24-6 run in six minutes with five three-pointers to cut the lead back down to seven. In the final eight minutes of the game, the Hoosiers were outscored 36-14.
The Gophers–including Payton Willis who finished with 28 points– made tough shot after tough shot. With three seconds left, E.J Stephens hit a three with the very large hand of Trayce Jackson-Davis in his face. The lead was now down to three.
Luckily, the Hoosiers built a big enough cushion and there was not enough time left for the Gophers to complete what would have been an unspeakable Indiana collapse. All that was left was to make free throws.
And that’s what they did. Despite not scoring a basket in the final three minutes and thirty seconds of the game, they made 10-of-15 of their free throws down the stretch.
“I mean, teams are gonna make runs. These teams are are good enough in the Big Ten, they would not go away even though they were at home and we were playing well early,” head coach Mike Woodson said on the post-game broadcast.
“And we were playing great, and then they got hot and we were able to withstand it as you know I’m happy about that. That’s what it’s all about. You know, we made the plays down the stretch that we needed to make.”
Indiana was able to build a seven-point halftime lead with the help of Xavier Johnson. Similar to the previous matchup against the Gophers, they elected to sag off on him. This led to Johnson having the room to fire off four first-half three-pointers.
The Pitt transfer ended the first half with 16 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
As a team, the Hoosiers were 16-of-30 from the field and 6-of-12 from deep for about fifty percent. However, they did their damage early in the second half by sprinting out on a 23-5 run after halftime to stretch the lead to 25.
“I mean, we we played great and had a wonderful stretch where we did build the lead to 27, and I think we got comfortable,” said Woodson.
Johnson was ultimately the one to put the final nail in the coffin. The point guard converted on 4-of-6 free throws including the final two points of the game to secure the win when Minnesota had it down to three in the closing seconds.
Whether it was creating for himself or others, the ball was in his hands for most of the game. he finished with 24 points on 7-of-16 shooting, with six rebounds, eight assists, and just one turnover.
It was the second consecutive 24-point performance for the transfer who is starting to find a consistent groove.
“He did a great job. I mean, he’s getting the ball where it’s got to go guys that are benefitting behind the pass. I mean, he was solid again, man and I’m gonna need that the rest of the way,” Woodson said of Johnson.
Off the bench, the Hoosiers also received some crucial help. After being out for almost a month, Rob Phinisee returned from a plantar fasciitis injury to play. Although he was limited, he provided eight points in nine minutes.
With both Race Thompson and Jackson-Davis fighting foul trouble and Minnesota focused on stopping the forward duo, Jordan Geronimo also provided some crucial minutes. He scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting including an emphatic jam and three rebounds in 13 minutes.
“I thought everybody that played played great,” said Woodson. “I thought Rob (Phinisee) and (Jordan) Geronimo were huge off the bench for us. It was nice having Rob back.”
The Hoosiers are still walking a fine line between making the NCAA Tournament. If they blew the game tonight, it would have been disastrous. Still, they escaped with a much-needed win.
At this point in the season, they know that they control their own destiny.
“At the end of the day, we know what’s staring in our face. We know that Rutgers is up next and we got to win another game,” said Woodson.
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