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Mackenzie Mgbako runs up the floor during Indiana's win over Minnesota on Jan. 12, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)
Mackenzie Mgbako runs up the floor during Indiana's win over Minnesota on Jan. 12, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

'It's huge for everybody': Indiana comes from behind for hard-fought victory at Maryland

The Hoosiers came alive in the second half, led by Xavier Johnson and Mackenzie Mgbako

Indiana had not won consecutive games since its final two non-conference games against North Alabama and Kennesaw State in December.

But this is March.

Following the Hoosiers’ win over Wisconsin on Tuesday, which snapped its four-game losing streak, Indiana headed to College Park and collected the season sweep over Maryland on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Terrapins 83-78.

The win is their third when having trailed by over 15 points this season.

“It’s huge for everybody,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “It’s hard to win on the road in the Big Ten, and we’ve had our struggles this year, but just to have [Xavier Johnson] back out on the floor, and all of his family members were here tonight, he had a good showing and most importantly, we won and that’s what counts.”

Eleven minutes remained in the game when Johnson connected with Mackenzie Mgbako, who, with the bench behind him, knocked down a corner 3 and drew a Julian Reese foul. The triple and the extra point from the free-throw line tightened Maryland’s lead down to two.

Johnson had one of his best games this season since coming back from injury, with 13 points and six assists, proving to be the crucial helping hand that Indiana desperately needed.

“I just thought X was Xavier Johnson,” Woodson said. “He did a lot of good things on the floor from a defensive standpoint, but just controlling the game along with him and [Trey Galloway] out front, our two seniors, man, I missed that this season. I really have.”

Xavier Johnson brings the ball up during Indiana's win over Minnesota on Jan. 12, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

On the receiving end of Johnson’s helping hand was Mgbako, who was another one of Indiana's key leaders down the stretch.

Especially contributing in clutch moments, Mgbako secured a new career high and shot 4-for-8 from beyond the arc to finish with 24 points in the Hoosiers’ win on the road.

“Well, he made shots,” Woodson said. “Once he started to make shots, we started running plays that would direct the ball towards him a little bit more, and our pick-and-roll game was going nicely. We made free throws, we made some 3s, out-rebounding our opponent, so that’s huge when you talk about going on the road and winning.”

But like many other games for Indiana this season, there was one half in particular where on-court success hadn’t come as easily.

With just under 11 minutes left in the first half, Maryland’s Jahari Long drove in for the layup, with his knee colliding with Malik Reneau in the process. Reneau immediately went down and remained visibly in pain under the Maryland basket as the Hoosiers went down on the other end, and Johnson drained a 3.

Reneau exited the game clutching onto his midsection and did not return until there was five minutes remaining in the first half. Indiana had only scored three points followed by a five-minute scoring drought with the absence of Reneau, while Maryland had used that time to its advantage, going on a 12-0 run immediately following.

Just 10 seconds into Reneau’s return, Reneau broke Indiana out of its five-minute scoring drought with a layup and one.

Kel'el Ware takes a shot during Indiana's loss to Nebraska on Feb. 21, 2024. (HN photo/Danielle Stockwell)

As his frontcourt partner, Kel’el Ware, couldn’t get much going offensively — most notably in the first half scoring zero points — Reneau tremendously stepped up in his place, finishing the half with nine of his total of 14 points and four boards.

The Hoosiers couldn’t fully get back in the first however, as the Terrapins had the 43-33 advantage at the halftime break.

In the second half however, Ware came alive. Although tallying six of Indiana’s 14 total turnovers on the day, Ware still provided down low with nine points, shooting 4-for-4, with 10 rebounds and two blocks in that second half of play.

Coming alive alongside Ware was Mgbako, who scored 18 of his 24 total points after halftime, shooting 6-of-8. But what was his mentality coming out of halftime that got him going for the Hoosiers?

“We’ve got to get the dub,” Mgbako said. “That’s all it was. Just play within the team and my teammates got me some good shots and I just had to knock them down.”

And in that second half of play alone, Indiana performed some of its best play all season, shooting 19-for-26.

Now as the Hoosiers prepare to close out their season, one primary question looms over many Hoosier fans’ heads.

Was Xavier Johnson the missing piece?

Woodson consistently preached throughout the season that many of Indiana’s struggles came due to the absence of Johnson. With Johnson’s recent return, the Hoosiers are now 2-0 in their last two games.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence because we have very good players, but they’re just young,” Johnson said. “With me, we get added experience. I know I do a couple of things that’s head-rocking, but you know, I’m a player. I’m going to make mistakes and you know, I'm going to try and get it right back.”

Looking ahead, the Hoosiers will now look to get themselves on a winning streak to close out the season.

Indiana will get a quick and early glimpse at the Big Ten Tournament, as the team will head up to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Wednesday night, with tip-off coming at 9 p.m.

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