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The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana men’s basketball backcourt hits rock bottom in lethargic loss to Rutgers

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Prior to the start of the season, Indiana men’s basketball head coach Mike Woodson said he needed improvement from his two senior captains: guards Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway. 

Through 16 games, that backcourt pairing has drastically underwhelmed — and they hit a new low Tuesday night in the Hoosiers’ 66-57 loss to Rutgers at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey. 

“When I look at the stat line, we were just awful,” Woodson said. “With the turnovers and the offensive rebounds, I’m surprised we were even that close.” 

Johnson was ejected in the second half due to a Flagrant 2 foul. To that point, he’d scored just 2 points in 23 minutes and turned the ball over a team-high five times. After a strong 18-point effort against Ohio State on Jan. 6, Johnson turned in his most inefficient outing of the year against the Scarlet Knights. 

For the sixth-year guard — who drew expectations of not only being the team’s most reliable and explosive playmaker, but a fervent leader, as well — Tuesday night’s performance did little to squash the concerns surrounding his inconsistency and mistake-prone play. 

Johnson’s turnovers frequently resulted from his wild and uncontrolled drives to the hoop that have been a staple of his play in an Indiana uniform. For the eldest member of the Hoosiers’ rotation, and someone Woodson called an “old man” before the season, those gaffes can’t continue if the Hoosiers hope to climb to the top of the conference table. 

After Johnson’s scoreless performance on the road against Nebraska on Jan. 3, Woodson didn’t shy away from criticism. He said Johnson’s 14 minutes against the Cornhuskers were “awful”. Following the loss to Rutgers, Woodson again didn’t mince words. 

“I expect our seniors… they got to help lead,” Woodson said. 

Games away from home arenas tend to be somewhat inauspicious for Big Ten teams, but Indiana experiences notable troubles on the Scarlet Knights’ court. Tuesday night’s loss marked the Hoosiers’ fifth consecutive defeat at Jersey Mike’s Arena, with their last win coming in the 2017-18 season. 

Like the Nebraska game, Indiana — and specifically Johnson — made myriad uncharacteristic mistakes against Rutgers. The Hoosiers shot 40% from the field, 27% from beyond the arc and turned the ball over a woeful 18 times Tuesday night, but it didn’t end there. 

On 15 attempts from the free throw line, the Hoosiers sank four of them. That 27% clip is the by far the worst of the season, with the next lowest mark coming at 55.6% against Maryland on Dec. 1. 

Like Johnson, Galloway was projected to improve as a scorer following an impressive 3-point shooting display last season. The Culver, Indiana, native missed all four of his triples Tuesday night and tallied 8 points on 4-of-13 shooting. 

Galloway missed both of his free throw attempts, one of which barely grazed the rim, and chucked an airballed 3-point attempt, as well. For a team whose backcourt boasts as much experience as any other tandem in college basketball, the lack of production has been jarring to fans. 

“That’s all losing basketball,” Woodson said. “And I got to help fix it.” 

Multiple times Tuesday night, the Hoosiers went on scoring droughts of five minutes or more. The out of sync, clunky offense that scraped away early season wins against overmatched foes resurfaced against Rutgers in full. 

At home, the Hoosiers have been able to find ways to win without star-studded individual performances. Against Ohio State, Indiana was outrebounded by 21. Tuesday night, Woodson’s group was outrebounded by 11, with Johnson and Galloway corralling just three combined boards. 

Without consistent performances from Johnson and Galloway, the Hoosiers are left with not only a lack of scoring potential from the backcourt, but on-the-floor leadership, as well. And for a team Woodson said at the outset of the season could be competing for Big Ten titles, that’s a startling reality. 

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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