Five minutes into its game with Jackson State University, Indiana men’s basketball junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis blocked a shot by junior forward Chance Moore, which bounced off the backboard to Indiana senior guard Xavier Johnson. Johnson, who finished with 2 points and four turnovers last game, started the fast break.
Johnson sprinted to half court and looked hell bent on getting a transition layup attempt. Instead of forcing the issue and causing a turnover, which he’s been prone to do at times this season, Johnson took his foot off the gas, scanned the floor and found senior forward Miller Kopp waiting at the 3-point line wide open. Kopp sunk the shot to give the Hoosiers an early 9-3 lead.
Johnson’s decision-making on that play was a sign of things to come as he finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, leading Indiana to a dominating 70-35 win over Jackson State on Tuesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Johnson’s speed and ability to get to the basket were evident early this season, but his decision-making ability improved drastically against Jackson State. Johnson said after the game avoiding foul trouble allowed him to be more aggressive.
“We brought Xavier here to help run our ball club, and he can't do it sitting next to me,” head coach Mike Woodson said at the postgame press conference. “I'm hard on point guards because they got to run our team and still be able to do the things they're capable of doing.”
With senior guard Rob Phinisee out with a leg injury and sophomore guard Khristian Lander in early foul trouble, Johnson played 18 of his 25 minutes in the first half. He shot an efficient 5-6 from the field in the game and went 4-4 on free throws in the second half.
Johnson’s speed made it easy to blow by Jackson State’s defense and create chances at the rim. He said after the game, watching film improved his understanding on when to use that speed and be aggressive and when to slow down and create chances for his teammates.
“Today, I mean, I just took advantage of that and I was successful with it, so I'm just going to keep on getting better and better at doing that,” Johnson said.
Led by Johnson, Indiana took much better care of the ball after turning it over 27 times in its last game against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Woodson has made it a goal for the Hoosiers to commit less than 12 turnovers each game, and they finished with 11 against the Tigers.
“I was shaking at halftime,” Woodson said. “We had eight and we finished the game with 11, so that's right where we need to be. I complimented them on that after the game.”
Behind Jackson-Davis, Johnson is Indiana’s second-leading scorer this season with 10.2 points per game and is leading the team with 3.2 assists per game. He’s shot 58.6% from the field and 50% from 3-point range this season.
In addition to his on-court contributions, Johnson said he wanted to help Lander become a better point guard when he got to Indiana this offseason.
Lander, who reclassified to come to Indiana a year early, has seen jumps in his points, rebounds, assists and steals per game in addition to improving his field goal shooting by more than 15 percentage points.
“I'm not the greatest point guard, but I played against a lot of point guards and I'm just trying to put my competitiveness in him because I see a bright future in him,” Johnson said.
Johnson will look to continue leading Indiana, which is now 5-0 this season, in its next game with Marshall University at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bloomington.