Through the first nine games of the season, Indiana men’s basketball senior guard Xavier Johnson has shown flashes of both his brilliance and inconsistency as the primary ball handler on offense. The duality of Johnson’s tendencies were on display as Indiana collapsed to Wisconsin in a 64-59 defeat Wednesday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Johnson was at the center of a dominant, all-around first half performance for Indiana that gave it a 17-point lead at halftime, the largest deficit Wisconsin had faced all season, but couldn’t find his touch during a second-half shooting slump in which Indiana scored the same amount of points it had led by.
“As the leader and point guard of this team, I take credit,” Johnson said. “I was getting downhill, that’s my game. I’ll be honest with myself, I couldn’t make a shot, make a layup in the second half.”
Johnson orchestrated a 19-4 run for the Hoosiers in the opening 10 minutes, which helped set the tone and pace against the Badgers. The Hoosiers’ sharpshooting duo of senior guard Parker Stewart and senior forward Miller Kopp punished the Badgers for leaving them with too much room from behind the arc with four combined 3-pointers, but it was Johnson who slowed the offense down and dished the ball out at the right moments.
Johnson also did his damage on offense by taking advantage of the open lanes Wisconsin gave up. He banked in a pair of layups and knocked down a jump shot, leading Indiana with a 3-6 mark from the floor in the first half.
Johnson, who transferred from the University of Pittsburgh over the summer, was on pace for a triple-double after 20 minutes of play with seven points, five assists and six rebounds.
But the Badgers made adjustments in the second half, which limited Johnson’s passing options and forced him to throw up heavily-contested floaters down low when the shot clock winded down on several stale possessions for Indiana.
“Ball movement was the biggest issue,” Johnson said about the offense’s struggles. “They did stick to the shooters a lot, cause Parker and Miller were heating up.”
In the final 20 minutes, Johnson was held to 1-10 from the floor and went 1-4 from the free-throw line. He missed a key pair of free throws while Wisconsin’s deficit crept into the single digits late. Indiana as a whole shot 46.2% from the line.
“He’s gotta learn and figure out from when he’s watching film when he has it and when he doesn’t have it,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said. “I’ve got to keep working with him and Rob (Phinisee), because we’ve got to have good point guard play.”
Although Johnson and Phinisee and freshman guard Tamar Bates off the bench struggled, Woodson said he had no plans to bring in sophomore guard Khristian Lander off the bench. Lander hasn’t played a single minute in Indiana’s last two games. Johnson, Phinisee and Bates shot a combined 6-23 from the floor.
Woodson said the Hoosiers have to learn how to keep their consistency on offense once they jump out to leads. He also noted he has to make sure junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson receive the ball more so Indiana’s offense doesn’t become one-dimensional for long stretches.
“It was like we were in quicksand the second half,” Woodson said.“I have to find ways to get Trayce and Race more shots down low.”
Johnson said he was emotional with his performance in the loss but stressed there is still a long season left for Indiana to prove itself in the Big Ten.
“I was crying,” Johnson said. “The guys are down. Have to take it day by day and we just can’t dwell on this loss.”