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Indiana’s paint presence and ball movement help Hoosiers take care of Maryland on the road

In what was a choppy game, Indiana got something you can never take for granted: A win on the road in the Big Ten.

“Any time you can go on the road and get one, it’s huge,” said Mike Woodson after the win.

Beating Maryland 68-55 meant Indiana got to put a bow on an absolute rollercoaster of a month. In January, the Hoosiers went 6-3 highlighted by their incredible upset over then-No. 4 Purdue. Following that up with a loss to an unranked Michigan team showed their lack of consistency and they hoped to find it on the road.

What has remained consistent is the performance of Xavier Johnson, who was playing close to home in D.C. His struggles with fouls and turnovers resulted in inconsistent minutes and therefore inconsistent play. However, over the past two weeks he seems to have come into his own. Saturday afternoon saw his shooting stroke disappear but his passing had never been better. With his family in attendance, Johnson took it upon himself to get his teammates involved with flash and focus.

The ball movement was contagious for the Hoosiers as they finished with 17 assists. They weren’t rattled by Maryland’s zone defense and by swinging the ball from side to side, created opportunities to score off cuts to the basket while catching the defense out of position.

Johnson totaled nine assists (a season high) while only recording two turnovers and one personal foul. He led the fast break like a man possessed and whipped passes into his big men after barely seeing them out of the corner of his eye. Johnson’s level of play could not have come at a better time for Indiana with the recent injury to Rob Phinisee who didn’t dress and is nursing plantar fasciitis.

Even without Phinisee, Indiana’s defensive pressure was impressive from the start, specifically at the rim. It was a collective effort to contest and send shots away from the opposing basket. The six blocks for Indiana is a solid total but even more impressive is the fact that five different players recorded one.

Collectively IU held Maryland’s leading scorers in Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell to just 5-for-24 combined from the floor.

Woodson spoke on his team’s defensive effort and they were able to execute.

“They saw bodies,” he said. “They didn’t have a lot of room to work. That’s good team defense. Everybody being in the proper position and doing what’s asked of them.”

Offensively Indiana controlled the painted area scoring over half its points at the rim and keeping Maryland away from theirs. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson took turns seeing who could score more in the paint. Both teamed up to have efficient days from the field and rebound extremely well. Jackson-Davis finished with 17 points and nine rebounds while Thompson tallied a quiet 18 and 12.

The question is and always has been, can Indiana keep it going for more than a couple games? Well, after looking at their schedule in the month of February, the Hoosiers will have to. Starting with Illinois they face a gauntlet of Big Ten foes on the road and at home. A week from Saturday promises to be another telling matchup for the Hoosiers at home against a top-25 team in Illinois.

Woodson left his postgame interview with these thoughts.

“This team is continuing to grow.”

And they’ll have to grow up fast in order to keep pace with the best in the conference.

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