Leading up to Indiana's contest with Big Ten rival Ohio State tonight, senior point and leader Xavier Johnson was intent on getting back into form following a dud performance in his return at Nebraska:
Safe to say, Johnson was able to shake off some of the rust from his time off the court. The captain notched 18 points on 4-9 shooting (2-2 from deep plus 8-11 from the charity stripe) to go along with 3 assists and 2 stocks. Mike Woodson and his Hoosier teammates needed XJ to step up tonight, and he did in a big way while leading his team to a hard fought 71-65 victory over the Buckeyes at home.
He was not the only one to step up, either. Malik Reneau continued his strong stretch of recent play (per game averages of 24 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3 assists in his last four games following the conclusion of tonight's conference battle) as he finished this one with 23 points and 7 boards. The super sophomore continues to get better and better as the season progresses.
It was a bit of a struggle for the rest of the starters (Ware, Mgbako and Galloway) who combined for just 17 points on 8-22 (36%) from the floor. Ware, who scored 6 of his 8 points in the early minutes of the game, was clearly stifled by the equally large Felix Okpara. The Buckeye big man made his presence known to the tune of 15 rebounds and 5 swats. The Buckeyes were led by sharpshooting swingman Jamison Battle's 17 points (5-10 shooting from downtown).
The unsung hero in this one was CJ Gunn, who chipped in with 10 points off the bench on 4-7 shooting and hit a few big shots in the second half (similar to how he did in the win over Michigan a few weeks back). Nights like tonight have been few and far in between for Gunn throughout the season so far, but the hope is that the talented sophomore can build off of his strong performance in this one and piece together some consistency looking ahead as the team continues to pursue it's goals in 2024.
After the slop show that we all witnessed in Indiana's last game against Nebraska, it was nice for the team to take a step back in the right direction. However, they will need to avoid any sense of complacency as they have done previously (example: beating Morehead State by 1 point at home following the triumphant effort in the 4 point loss at home to Kansas). With a now 11-4 record (3-1 in conference play) heading into their next game at Rutgers on Tuesday night (streaming at 7 PM EST on Peacock), let's see if Indiana can keep the positive vibes rolling.