Facing its first test of the early season, No. 12 Indiana men’s basketball traveled to Xavier University on Friday and snuck out with an 81-79 victory.
In the winding seconds of the game, Indiana’s defense was stoic, forcing a missed layup with just two seconds left on the clock and coming down with the rebound. Senior guard Xavier Johnson, who was fouled after grabbing the board, made his second free throw and helped close out the game when the ensuing inbounds pass was deflected to him.
After years of struggling in nonconference true road games, Indiana’s win broke a losing streak dating back to November 2011, the longest among Power-6 conferences.
“Obviously, we had high expectations coming into this year,” senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said in a post-game press conference. “First big test, and it was a really hostile environment. I think it was really good for our team.”
To pull off the victory, Indiana relied on senior leadership from Johnson and Jackson-Davis. Jackson-Davis scored 30 points on 13-for-16 shooting, while Johnson added 23 points and seven rebounds.
“They were tremendous, and I say that because they hadn’t been in practice the last three, four, five days,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “(They were) under the weather with little nicks here and there, so I was concerned coming in of where we were going to get it from.”
Johnson’s impact as the team’s point guard and floor general was clear early on. Indiana was sped up to a pace it wasn’t comfortable playing at, and Xavier forced Indiana into small mistakes, missed passes and poor shots.
When Johnson returned to the floor, his leadership aided the Hoosiers as they settled into the game. Shortly after returning from the bench with just over nine minutes left in the first half, Johnson helped the Hoosiers begin to dig out of a nine-point deficit.
"He was sporadic here and there, but for the most part he was solid,” Woodson said. “I was on X a lot, especially after he got the tech. ... He did all the things we needed him to do to secure this win.”
Johnson’s only blemish was foul trouble, including a technical he was given after hitting a 3-pointer in the first half and turning towards the bench to celebrate. Freshman forward Malik Reneau was given a technical of his own in the second half.
“I addressed that, and I’m going to stay on them about that,” Woodson said. “That could be the difference in winning and losing games. If you make a shot, you’re supposed to make a shot... so you don’t have to taunt and do all the unnecessary things to get us in trouble.”
Johnson’s performance opened the door for Jackson-Davis, whose ability to work the baseline shined for a team who played well low all night. Indiana had 50 points in the paint.
Woodson’s lineups often included both Jackson-Davis and Reneau, who scored 12 points. With opponents focusing on Jackson-Davis down low, Reneau had little issue creating a mismatch against Xavier’s defense.
“They’re too worried about Trayce,” Reneau said.
Ten of Reneau’s points came in the second half, four of which came after picking up his fourth personal foul. Despite being a freshman, Woodson said he trusted Reneau to stay in the game, especially with senior forward Race Thompson on the bench as the backup plan.
“Malik, for how young he is, he’s so mature as a player,” Jackson-Davis said. “He’s a matchup nightmare for teams. He has a great feel for the game, especially in situations with IQ and awareness.”
After Indiana’s win over Bethune-Cookman, in which it was able to turn out one of its best 3-point shooting performances of the last two years, the Hoosiers struggled again from range Friday. They missed several open shots, while the Musketeers knocked down shots in big moments.
Indiana shot 4-for-12 from 3-point range, including four misses from Thompson, while Xavier shot 7-for-17.
The Hoosiers will return to the state of Indiana to play Miami University at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
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