Indiana men’s basketball had redemption on its mind Thursday night, making a solid statement in front of Hoosier fans at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Its 74-64 win over Maryland was like a breath of fresh air for Indiana, fighting its way into a chance of entering the NCAA March Madness tournament.
Indiana started playing with tremendous pace against Maryland, playing with patience to adjust to Maryland’s surprising runs to close the game. Indiana dedicated much of its focus to finishing aggressively around the basket. Indiana ended the game with 44 points from inside the perimeter alone.
Now let’s be honest, Maryland is clearly one of the less-talented teams Indiana has played against, especially considering how senseless Indiana beat them in their first meeting earlier this year. Maryland went scoreless for almost seven minutes in the first half Thursday night, until junior guard Hakim Hart knocked down a crucial three-pointer to stop the bleeding.
Maryland’s attention was primarily set on junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis after dropping an easy 17 points and nine rebounds in their last meeting. However, because of the focus on Jackson-Davis, Indiana was forced to use the other players on the floor, as Jackson-Davis committed two early fouls.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson had no choice but to unleash his frustration on Maryland, dominating after his scoring slump from the last five games without Jackson-Davis' presence early in the first half.
Johnson scored a game-high 24 points, with 20 of his points coming in the second half to lead Indiana on Thursday night. Johnson’s efficiency was out of this world, and he practically had a perfect game, shooting 7-7 from the field and 3-3 from 3-point land.
The composure Johnson showed was beyond a boost for Indiana’s intensity offensively. Eight of the nine Hoosiers scored to contribute to the action, including one-half of the big man duo in senior forward Race Thompson.
Thompson was impressive as usual, scoring 19 points and putting up six rebounds and one assist to hold down the inside game while Jackson-Davis was on the bench. Thompson’s production has been efficient all year long, continuously showing why he is an underrated player in the making for Indiana’s success this season.
Once again, Indiana began to settle coming out of halftime, and Maryland’s graduate guard Fatts Russell took advantage, scoring 23 points and making 5-9 3-point attempts to keep Maryland above water.
Maryland started to speed up Indiana’s offensive flow, forcing Indiana to turn the ball over and play with a different energy than the first half. Hart added 14 points and junior forward Donte Scott scored 10 points to put Maryland within three points of tying the game midway through the second half before Johnson’s takeover put Maryland away.
As seen on many occasions, Indiana has a tough time closing out games. Thursday night was the statement game Indiana needed to keep their tournament hopes alive.
However, Indiana will need to carry that same energy when playing highly competitive teams like the remaining three teams left on their schedule. Teams will be better than Maryland moving forward, and it will be interesting to see how Indiana can respond, as the future of its season depends solely on those games.