IU hopes it has calm nerves, adjusts to new basketball in second NCAA game

Xavier Johnson was already a bit nervous headed into his first ever NCAA Tournament game Tuesday in Dayton.

But his anxieties were compounded when he saw the basketball that would be used throughout March Madness, the hauntingly familiar bright orange Wilson Evo NXT.  Wilson suggests the ball will help you become the next Steph Curry in its marketing materials on its website.

“The NCAA Evo NXT game basketball is what college shooters have been dreaming about, lighting up a new path beyond the arc with optimally balanced internal construction, built for long range shooters who live in 3-point territory,” Wilson says.

Johnson just thinks of it as the ball the got him booed off the court in Indianapolis back in December at the Crossroads Classic.

“I can recall probably my worst game I had with it was Notre Dame when I went 2-for-9 from three because the ball is just — it’s just different. It’s stickier,” Johnson said on Wednesday in Portland.

The ball generated social media buzz during the Wyoming game.

“They looked like the $5.99 specials from Walmart,” billionaire IU alumnus and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on his Twitter page.

“It’s bright orange and bothering me,” former IU star Cody Zeller said.

The bright orange orb was no friend of Indiana in Dayton, as the Hoosiers made just 2-of-13 from 3-point range.  It’s a small sample size, but shooting percentages during all of the First Four games in Dayton were meaningfully down when compared to the college basketball season as a whole.  The eight teams in Dayton shot a combined 31.8 percent from three, compared to 33.9 percent by all Division One teams for the entirety of the 2021-22 season.

Johnson made one of his two attempts from long range against Wyoming, but his struggles came inside the arc where he made just 2-of-10, well off his season average.  He left several attempts off the mark from close range, and believes the Wilson ball played a role.

“It’s a different English going off the glass when you make layups,” Johnson said of the Wilson basketball, adding that it has more of an outdoor basketball feel.

“It’s a rubber ball, that’s what it feels like,” he said.

A lack of comfort with the basketball was the last thing Johnson needed.  He admitted on Wednesday to be being on edge Tuesday going into the Wyoming game.

Some of his old bad habits — particularly taking contested shots in the paint area — resurfaced during the game as Johnson seemed sped up at times.

“I was a little nervous going into the game, I can’t lie, because it’s a different stage, even though it’s another basketball game,” Johnson said.  “But I got my feet wet last night, so I think I’m fine now.”

He wasn’t the only IU player making his NCAA Tournament debut — all of them were.  And collectively they persevered through an off shooting night to garner all of their first ever NCAA Tournament victories.

Johnson thinks they will put those jitters behind them and be more composed when they take on No. 5 seed St. Mary’s (7:20 p.m. Eastern, TBS) on Thursday.

“I think everybody will be ready going into the next game,” he said.

But will they be ready for that basketball?  Or perhaps, more experience with the ball will prove to be an advantage.

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