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IU guards struggling in Blackmon Jr.'s absence



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Freshman guard Robert Johnson drives towards the basket during the game against Wisconsin on Jan. 5 at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers won, 59-58. Haley Ward and Haley Ward Buy Photos

The Hoosiers haven’t lost since sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. hurt his knee. The day he had season-ending knee surgery, IU improved to a perfect 3-0 in Big Ten play.

Guards Nick Zeisloft, a senior, and Robert Johnson, a sophomore, have both seen their minutes increase since Blackmon Jr. went out, but their production has worsened.

Johnson’s points per game have dropped from 7.6 to 2 points per game. Zeisloft’s have dropped from 6.3 to 4.7 points per game.

“We truly miss him,” IU Coach Tom Crean said about Blackmon Jr. “But at the same time, you’ve got to keep preaching that there’s an unbelievable opportunity for other people.”

While Johnson’s and Zeisloft’s minutes and opportunities have increased in the past three games, so has the amount of attention being paid to them. When Blackmon Jr. was on the floor, he always drew the attention of opposing defenses because of his ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc.

This meant other players like Johnson and Zeisloft had more open looks at the basket.

Both Johnson and Zeisloft have the ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc. Not as well as Blackmon Jr., but the skill is still there. In the first 10 games of the season, the two combined to shoot 47 percent from behind the arc, actually a percent higher than Blackmon Jr.

But since Blackmon Jr. has been injured, the two have combined to shoot 23 percent on their 3-pointers. They are also shooting only 21 percent from the field.

“You have to pay a lot of attention to James,” Crean said on his radio show. “It’s not just the baskets he makes, it’s the spaces he creates for other people.”

On Crean’s radio show Dec. 28, the day Blackmon Jr. injured his knee and two days before IU’s Big Ten opener when Blackmon Jr.’s injury was announced, he praised Johnson’s decision-making and his almost 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio at that point in the season.

But since those comments were made, Johnson has turned the ball over 13 times in IU’s three games in that period, compared to his 11 assists.

Crean has also mentioned in the past that Johnson is not 100 percent. He hasn’t missed any practices or games, Crean said, but there has been soreness in his left ankle for a good part of this season.

The answer for both players stepping in to fill the hole left by Blackmon Jr.’s injury may come from gaining confidence from what they do best. For Zeisloft, that will be his three point shooting. For Johnson, that could be his defense, an area where Johnson is considered an upgrade compared to Blackmon Jr.

After IU’s game against IPFW on Dec. 9, a game where Johnson scored 16 points thanks to making all five of his 3-pointers, Crean talked about where Johnson’s confidence could originate from.

In that game, Johnson had 13 deflections, which sparked his performance 
offensively.

“I think as his confidence grows in his defense, it will grow in every other part of his game,” Crean said.

IU (10-3) vs. Ohio State (11-5)

1:30 p.m. Sunday, Assembly Hall

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