With their backs against the wall, Xavier Johnson did everything in his power to get the Hoosiers a much-needed win over rival Purdue.
In the end, Indiana came up just short, 69-67 in West Lafayette. Johnson finished with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, and a career-high 12 assists to just two turnovers.
With Indiana’s offense struggling, his play lit a fire under the rest of the team.
“I saw some holes and I tried to exploit them a little bit and we were successful. X was getting downhill, was pulling-up with his shots, and was getting passes over the top and behind their defense,” said head coach Mike Woodson.
The Hoosiers were keeping pace with the Boilermakers early, thanks to nine quick points from Race Thompson. But with his team down 16-14, Woodson wanted a word and called a 30-second timeout.
Things got worse before it got better.
The offense then struggled to find a rhythm and missed their next eight field-goal attempts. They failed to score in an almost five-minute span. This led Purdue to go on a 12-0 run to grab a 12-point lead. They’d lead by 13 in the first half on multiple occasions as it looked like the game might get out of hand.
But then along came Johnson. The point guard took the offense into his own hands and scored six points in the final two minutes and thirty seconds of the half. He also found an open Miller Kopp for an assist, who connected on a three.
Indiana went on a 9-0 run to cut the halftime lead to four, 33-29. Johnson finished the half with eight points, three assists, two steals, and no turnovers.
“We just opened the floor up a little bit. X had it going and the way they play defense and tag from the back side from the pick-and-roll opens up things,” said Woodson.
Then in the second half, it was the same story — Johnson was on a roll. The Pitt transfer, who has never made the NCAA Tournament, started the half with two assists to Trayce Jackson-Davis. In his second assist, Johnson threaded the needle between two defenders with a sweet two-handed overhead bounce pass.
Then, down 48-40, Johnson willed his team to an 11-0 run. He started by finding Kopp yet again for a three– he would finish the game with 14 points with four three-pointers. Then Johnson scored the next six points. His last jumper in the run gave IU their first lead since being up 5-4 three minutes into the game.
“Our pick-and-roll offense tonight was the best it’s been all season.” said Woodson. “We were able to spread the floor and get some good looks.”
When Johnson checked out for a couple of minutes, Purdue instantly went on a 7-0 run in just ninety seconds. His presence on both ends of the floor was missed in that span.
But the Hoosiers, like previous games, failed to capitalize down the stretch. Johnson saved his only two turnovers for the last four minutes, which gave the team two empty possessions. And he wasn’t the only Hoosier who didn’t execute late.
Down by two with fourteen seconds left, Indiana had a chance to take the lead when Parker Stewart found himself wide-open for a three but failed to connect.
After a Jackson-Davis offensive rebound, the Hoosiers still had another chance. This time it was Kopp throwing an errant inbounds pass that led to a steal.
After all that, Indiana still had one more chance after Purdue’s Trevion Williams missed both of his free throws. This time Johnson was called upon to bring the ball up the court and create in six seconds like he had done the entire game. However, thinking he got fouled, he hoisted up a contested shot from 35 to 40 feet away.
It was nowhere close.
“Obviously, there was no contact,” Woodson said of the final play. “All you can do at that particular time is get the ball up the floor, try to get a shot, hopefully there’s a breakdown defensively and you can pass it and get a shot. There’s not a whole lot of time.”
With the loss, the Hoosiers find themselves now in a do-or-die situation. They’ll most likely need multiple wins in the Big Ten Tournament for any chance at the NCAA Tournament.
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