INDIANAPOLIS — With 11:50 left in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, it looked like Michigan was in control and ready to knock Indiana out of this tournament again. The Wolverines led 60-43 heading into the under-12 media timeout.
But in front of a disgruntled Indiana-heavy crowd, the Hoosiers rallied and closed the game with a 28-4 run, winning 74-69. Here are three takeaways from IU’s thrilling victory over Michigan.
XAVIER JOHNSON IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER ON THIS TEAM
Xavier Johnson finished the game with a +13 +/-. Jordan Geronimo was the only player in the game with a higher +/-, as he was +21 in just 20 minutes in this one.
Johnson picked up his second foul and was taken out of the game with 11:16 left in the first half. Indiana trailed 15-10 at that point. The rest of the half was a layup line for Michigan, as the Wolverines had 22 points in the paint in the half and shot 13 free throws due to their penetration. None of the Hoosiers’ other perimeter defenders could stay in front of Michigan, making Johnson’s absence huge.
Johnson’s impact goes beyond the box score, which looked pretty good for him anyway. He had 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and shot 5-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 on 3s.
But Johnson’s intensity and leadership were just as important as his numbers. There were multiple instances in the second half–even when IU trailed by double digits–where Johnson was seen trying to get the fans and his teammates to bring more spirit to the game.
Trayce Jackson-Davis noted this effort, saying, “on offense, having [Xavier Johnson] right next to me coming off the screens, getting easy lobs, I think that got me going.”
That effort ultimately mattered as Johnson was the driving force to the comeback.
THE HOOSIERS ARE MONEY IN TRANSITION
I’ve been saying it all season, but this game truly changed when Indiana got stops and turned those stops into quick and easy buckets. There were eight instances during IU’s run where the Hoosiers attacked in under 15 seconds and either scored or got to the foul line.
This team doesn’t have enough offensive talent to consistently score in the halfcourt, but they have the potential to make magic in transition. With guards as explosive as Johnson and Trey Galloway, and forwards that can gallop down the floor like Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and Jordan Geronimo, fastbreak offense should come rather easily.
The Hoosiers were humming in the open court and it gave the team enough life to come back against the Wolverines.
SMALL BALL LINEUPS WORK
For most of the season, Mike Woodson has played his two slightly-undersized bigs, Race Thompson and Tracye Jackson-Davis together. Woodson usually plays Jordan Geronimo (who is really undersized at just 6-foot-6) at power forward with the 7-foot Michael Durr at center. This was so Durr’s abundance of size and strength could negate what Geronimo lacks in that category.
However, Indiana went small and had a frontline of Geronimo and Jackson-Davis during the huge run. Michigan could no longer get to the basket as easily and the Wolverines struggled to chase around IU’s smaller lineup. The Wolverines also play two large bigs, as Moussa Diabate is 6-foot-1 and Hunter Dickinson is 7-foot-1. Michigan could not keep pace with IU’s small ball.
This was one of the biggest in-game changes that Woodson has made this season. To see him stick with Geronimo and Jackson-Davis for an extended period was unexpected but it yielded good results.
The Hoosiers play a bruising Illinois squad at 11:30 a.m. EST Friday, and we’ll see if they try some smaller lineups yet again.