INDIANAPOLIS — It was written all over the players’ faces coming into the locker room at halftime. Defeat.
Indiana was down 41-28 and was never even competitive.
Whether it was the 11:30 a.m. start time or the pressure of needing a win to improve its NCAA Tournament hopes, it all looked to be crumbling down. But then, one of the greatest comebacks in Big Ten Tournament history happened, and Indiana survived to play another day.
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Xavier Johnson was the only one who had any fire in both halves but foul trouble kept him from playing over nine minutes in the first half. Johnson paired with Trayce Jackson-Davis nearly single handedly lifted Indiana to it’s 74-69 victory over Michigan.
Down 17 with 12:54 to go, the hopes and dreams for IU to make the NCAA Tournament looked to be dust.
But it was Indiana’s aggressive defensive play which turned the tide.
The Hoosiers forced 10 of Michigan’s 12 turnovers in the second half and went on a 28-4 run in the last 11:02 of the game.
After a steal and breakaway dunk from Jackson-Davis with 9:54 to go in the second half, Johnson did his best to pump up the Hoosier faithful.
It worked. The atmosphere in Gainbridge Fieldhouse was electric. Michigan closed the game making two of its last 17 field goals. Indiana made seven of its last nine to close the game.
Johnson was the voice behind Indiana’s second-half surge and stepped up to the occasion as a leader. From diving at loose balls, taking charges and directing the offense, he did it all.
“His energy truly helps his team in a lot of ways,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said.
On top of this, Howard mentioned Johnson’s aggressive defense and ability to spread the floor on offense. His defense was truly relentless.
Johnson finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes.
Over the course of the season Johnson has emerged into a leadership role and his constant effort and energy have spread throughout the entire roster.
“I think he’s grown so much since we started this journey,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said regarding his point guard.
Down near the basket, Jackson-Davis struggled mightily in the first half. He gave up 13 points to Wolverines big man Hunter Dickinson and only had a measly five points to show for himself.
In the second half, TJD put up 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting as well as four soul-crushing blocks. Dickinson only made one basket in the final 20 minutes.
“In the locker room coach Woody [Woodson] was getting on me, saying I wasn’t playing to my capabilities,” Jackson-Davis said postgame.
Well, whatever it was that Woodson said to TJD at halftime, it worked.
So many times this season, Indiana has been on the short end of the stick down the stretch of games. Finally, Indiana got over that hump and is now slated for a date with Kofi Cockburn and Illinois at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
The NCAA Tournament keeps looking better and better for the Hoosiers. With more energy and toughness, Indiana can solidify its spot in the field of 68.
“This is probably the biggest win for our program in such a long time,” Woodson said.