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Bench shines in early season statement win for Indiana over St. John’s

It felt like March on a Wednesday night in November. Assembly Hall was loud and anxiety-filled as it would be in a big conference game, but this time Indiana wasn’t facing Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State or Michigan. They were playing St. Johns. 

A Big East opponent who hasn’t had an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament since the 2014-15 season was the cause of all the excitement in Bloomington. 

But that excitement is deserved for a team like Indiana, and IU showed why in a 76-74 win over the Red Storm.

Indiana got off to a quick start, forcing nine turnovers in the first half, and holding St. John’s to 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep. This was in large part due to the three blocks and seven steals mustered by Mike Woodson’s squad in the first half. 

The Hoosiers were swarming, playing with pace and most importantly energy. The Assembly Hall crowd also played a massive role early. St. John’s hasn’t experienced anything like it and they couldn’t get settled. 

This momentum swung in the second half as St. John’s got off to a hot start and shot 40 percent from deep in the as a team in the half.

The Red Storm tightened things up to open the second half. They were so aggressive, great at denying entry passes to preseason All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Indiana’s ball handlers were having a tough time as well being strong with the ball. In the first eight minutes of the second half the Hoosiers had six turnovers. 

A bad trend for Indiana is clearly the free-throw shooting. Indiana struggled mightily from the line yet again. The Hoosiers shot 10-for-19 from the line, 52.6 percent. It’s been a sore spot all year, and something that will be an emphasis moving forward. 

The glass was also not kind to Indiana in the second half. They were out rebounded and allowed seven offensive boards. 

At the end of the day it was the bench contributions from Indiana which got it done. 

Freshman Tamar Bates had 11 points in the first half and kept St. John’s at a distance. He showed his wide skill set knocking down two critical mid-range jump shots and a deep 3.

Then, a surprising pair of substitutions around the 10-minute mark in the second half gave the Hoosiers a boost. It was Khristian Lander and Jordan Geronimo. The two sophomores may not have lit it up on the stat sheet but they served as a spark plug bringing the crowd back into it, hustling, and knocking down shots. 

Khristian Lander played huge minutes in the 76-74 win vs St. John’s. (Max Wood/HN)

Khristian Lander: two points, one assist, one rebound in six minutes

Jordan Geronimo: seven points, five rebound in eight minutes

Geronimo ultimately had the task of guarding St. John’s star Julian Champagnie with the game on the line, up two with 8.4 seconds on the clock. 

Going into the final possession, Champagnie had been absolutely lights out. He had 32 points and shot 50 percent on 12 3s. Deep breaths, sighs and groans were taken every shot he took. 

Back to Geronimo. On the final possession, he locked up Champagnie as he forced up a deep contested 3 after juggling with the ball. It missed and Parker Stewart clutched the rebound. Indiana won. 

“He (Geronimo) came in and he responded…my coaches were screaming at me to get him in the game,” Woodson said. 

This moment when Woodson’s assistant coaches wanted Geronimo in the game? It was the final defensive possession and the final eight seconds. 

It’s as simple as it gets for this team. Jackson-Davis can’t do everything. Other guys have to step up. 

The more guys step up off the bench and play their role, the more the Hoosiers will win.  

This is a game that Indiana would have lost last season.

It’s undeniable that there are things the Hoosiers have to fix: free-throw shooting, rebounding and defending the 3-point line included. But there’s something fresh in the air in Bloomington right now. Excitement, energy and hope. And that’s something that hasn’t been said in a very long time about IU basketball.

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