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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

‘Fears nothing’: CJ Gunn’s confidence pays dividends in Indiana’s win over Ohio State

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For most of his young collegiate career, Indiana men’s basketball sophomore guard CJ Gunn’s aggressiveness has been a vice.  

Frequently resigning to contested pull up jumpers and off-balance shots, Gunn’s Hoosier tenure has been hampered by inconsistency and inefficiency. Saturday night against Ohio State at Assembly Hall, though, Gunn’s contributions off the bench were invaluable to the team’s 71-65 win. 

The Indianapolis native notched 10 points — his season-high — in a career-high 24 minutes. With a clutch triple and smooth midrange bucket late in the second half, Gunn, as he always has, didn’t shy away from the moment. 

And finally, he saw that confidence come to fruition. 

“CJ’s in the gym all the time,” sixth year senior guard Xavier Johnson said postgame. “He’s a guy that has high confidence in himself, and he fears nothing.” 

Even as a freshman, that confidence was evident. Though a sparse member of the Hoosiers’ 2022-23 rotation, Gunn was an energetic presence on the defensive end, albeit a highly volatile shooting option. 

Gunn shot just under 31% from the field and an abysmal 8.3% from beyond the arc. In the offseason, Gunn sought the guidance of Director of Player Development and Indiana basketball legend Calbert Cheaney. 

Now, he spends much of his time delving into film with assistant coach Brian Walsh and Team and Recruiting Coordinator Jordan Hulls. With those extensive sessions, Gunn said he’s grown more comfortable on the floor. 

“His last few days of practice have been tremendous,” head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “He had two good days, man, and I thought he deserved to play. I thought he responded, which was kind of nice.” 

In a tense contest against the Buckeyes on Saturday, with momentum constantly teetering, Gunn seemed to always find ways to send the Hoosier faithful springing out of their seats and producing cheers. 

A little over midway through the first half, Indiana trailed 25-20. Ohio State was coming off a scorching 12-0 run, but Gunn shifted the energy in one play.  

Sophomore center Kel’el Ware made a steal on the defensive end and quickly pushed it ahead to Gunn, who needed just two dribbles to make it to the other hoop from halfcourt. With Ohio State sophomore forward Felix Okpara bearing down on him, Gunn soared and sealed an emphatic slam. 

Gunn paused briefly before offering a quick flex and rejoicing with his teammates. He knocked down the ensuing free throw, completing the 3-point play and pulling the Hoosiers within a bucket. 

“CJ stepped up and gave us some important minutes tonight,” Woodson said. 

Perhaps the most important of Gunn’s minutes came in the second half. With just over nine minutes remaining in Saturday’s contest, Gunn collected a pass on the right wing and subtely pump-faked to sidestep Buckeye senior forward Jamison Battle. 

Gunn slid in for a midrange shot and coolly drilled it. A few minutes later, he drained his biggest shot of the night. 

Following the drive of senior guard Trey Galloway, Gunn crept into an open position and received the kickout on the perimeter. Without hesitation, Gunn let it fly and watched the ball rattle through the hoop.

In extended minutes this season, Gunn’s production — like his freshman campaign — has been rocky. Including Saturday night, he’s logged double digit minutes in nine games and played 20 or more minutes four times. 

Still, he hadn’t scored in double figures until facing off against the Buckeyes. The breakout game was a long time coming for Gunn, whose willingness on the offensive end has been a double-edged sword. 

“Coach (Woodson) made an emphasis that I need to be more in tune with what we’re doing on both sides of the floor,” Gunn said.  

While his scrappiness on defense has persisted, his shooting — which has lagged behind — appears to be taking shape. A finalist for Indiana Mr. Basketball as a senior at Lawrence North High School, Gunn arrived in Bloomington with no shortage of talent. 

Enduring severe inconsistency is difficult for young players, but Gunn has proven he’s up to the task physically and mentally. And it’s why Woodson entrusted him Saturday night. 

“A lot of it is, the young guys, it’s the mental part of it, knowing exactly what we’re doing when we go into a game setting and putting the game plan together,” Woodson said. “If I don’t see that, then how can I have confidence in playing you?” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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