While it was not the season opening blowout the Hoosiers wanted, they most importantly showed resilience over Eastern Michigan. They won a challenge, 68-62. While it may not have been the one they expected, it was a challenge.
When it seemed like Eagles guard Noah Farrakhan was making everything he shot down the stretch, the Hoosiers didn’t back down and stayed in the fight.
The most important thing for IU and Mike Woodson, they got the win, even if it was just by six points.
That win came in part due to the strong play of Indiana’s point guards, who responded to adversity and stayed cool under pressure.
It was 44 seconds after IU point guard Xavier Johnson, who transferred from Pittsburgh, committed his third turnover in five minutes that he was subbed out. Rob Phinisee checked into the game in his place, just six minutes into the game.
It was nine long minutes that Johnson sat on the bench. When he came back in with five minutes left in the first half he knocked down a 3, hit three free throws and most importantly didn’t turn the ball over.
In his time at Pittsburgh, Johnson was known for playing fast — almost too fast. Johnson averaged nearly four turnovers a game. On Tuesday against Eastern Michigan, after the first five minutes, he slowed down and it paid off for him.
Johnson said that after he was subbed out the first time, “Coach (Woodson) told me to stop being so cool with the ball and that’s what I did.”
Right there alongside him in the game was another guy who’s paid his dues and is fighting for the starting point guard spot: Phinisee.
The two-guard duo was patient and precise, combining for 21 points, five assists and five turnovers. Down the stretch they were crucial, not turning the ball over and taking on the task of making Farrakhan miss. They led the Hoosiers to a 68 to 62 win over Eastern Michigan in the season opener.
Xavier Johnson: 14 points; three assists; two rebounds
Rob Phinisee: seven points; two assists; one rebound
Although, where was the other guy in conversation for the point guard battle, Khristian Lander?
Despite the Hoosiers holding at least a 10-point lead throughout the entire first half and a 21-point lead in the second, Lander never subbed in.
Lander, a former five-star recruit, was expected by many to take on an increased role this season and his lacking presence in the Eastern Michigan win was surprising.
Woodson just didn’t seem to use many substitutions in the second half and when things got sticky midway through the second half it didn’t seem as if Woodson was going to change much of the game plan. He needed his best on the court as that lead slowly slipped away.
“We got soft,” Woodson said. “We were comfortable with the lead.”
That’s simply what happened: a wake-up call.
Lander’s presence was another question mark that added onto another tough spot for the Hoosiers: shooting. It can’t get much worse than it was the last few years for IU from behind the arc but Tuesday it was really rough.
The Hoosiers shot 42 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from 3 on 24 attempts, 0-for-9 in the second half and 60 percent from the free-throw line.
The free throw woes also continued for Trayce Jackson-Davis as down the stretch he was 3-for-8.
The shooting was the most disheartening thing for Indiana fans. So much emphasis was placed on shooting over the offseason, and Woodson said he hoped they were bound to break through.
“We’re missing a lot of wide-open 3s right now…these are the same guys who are making them in practice,” Woodson said.
The shots should eventually fall for Indiana, they have the shooters in Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp but Tuesday, IU couldn’t buy one.
Tuesday served as a wake-up call for and an early test for Indiana but the Hoosiers will look to have a better showing on Friday night against Northern Illinois.