Indiana men’s basketball has yet to win a game in February. The team’s NCAA Tournament hopes have dwindled with each addition to its current five-game losing streak, but there may still be enough time to burst out of the bubble and secure a spot as one of the lower-seeded postseason teams.
“We got a group of people who have never succeeded and done anything,” junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said about Indiana’s batch of transfer players. “Learning how to win and playing for something like playing to get into the (NCAA) tournament, they’ve never had that pressure.”
After facing four top-25 teams during their skid, the Hoosiers have a more favorable schedule to wrap up the regular season. The first pair of their final four games comes against Maryland and Minnesota, the third-to-last and second-to-last place teams in the Big Ten, respectively. The game against Maryland will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
On Jan. 29, Indiana defeated Maryland 68-55 on the road to push its record to 16-5 at the time. It still stands as the team’s most recent victory.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson had one of his most well-rounded performances of the season in the first matchup against the Terrapins. Aside from the 8 points he scored, Johnson dished out a season-high nine assists.
Since then, though, Johnson has lost his shooting touch. In Johnson’s four appearances since the win against Maryland, he attempted double-digit shots three times and shot below 37% in each.
More responsibility has fallen on Johnson’s shoulders with the absences of senior guard Rob Phinisee and sophomore guards Trey Galloway and Khristian Lander due to injuries. It is still unclear how soon, if at all, any of the three will return, meaning Johnson will be forced to play at a high level for prolonged minutes if Indiana wants to make a late-season push.
“X is gonna be OK,” Jackson-Davis said. “A few rough games aren’t gonna define him. We just gotta stay in his head, good thoughts. Especially with all the negative energy surrounding our program, we can’t have guys fracturing inside. We’re all we got.”
Coming off back-to-back collapses after holding the lead in the final minutes against then-No.15 Wisconsin and then-No. 22 Ohio State, Jackson-Davis said he’s used the close losses to Indiana’s quality opponents as motivation to not give up on the team’s postseason goal.
“It shows that we’re still here and we’re fighting,” Jackson-Davis said. “We have to believe because it’s just a confidence (issue) at this point.”
Jackson-Davis, who failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament last season with the Hoosiers and had his freshman season cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, said he’s been on both sides of the scenario the team faces trying to sneak into the 64-team bracket.
“If you’re still living in the past, you’re never gonna get over the hump,” Jackson-Davis said. “A lot of guys on our team are down on themselves right now, so I’m just gonna keep trying to pick them up because I’ve been through this situation.”
The Hoosiers will also debut their “Honoring Black Excellence” jersey in Thursday’s rematch against Maryland in honor of Black History Month for their final home game of February. The design features Indiana’s state flower, the peony, which is meant to be a representation of giving someone their flower and a sign of appreciation for Black culture.
“It symbolizes something the world needs to see,” Jackson-Davis said. “Black History Month to me is very important, and the strides that we’ve made have been huge.”
Indiana has lost two games in a row on Branch McCracken Court, but with only two remaining at home this season, the team has a prime opportunity to use its home court advantage to sweep a struggling Maryland side and get itself back on track.
“We’re hungry,” Jackson-Davis said. “We gotta take it to them, honestly, there’s no other way to put it.”