MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — For 32 minutes, Indiana looked liked the best version of themselves this season. For the final eight, the Hoosiers did just enough to hang on for a win.
After seeing a 27-point lead whittled down to just three in the closing stages, the Hoosiers (18-10, 9-9 B1G) held off the Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-14, 4-14 B1G), 84-79. That’s IU’s third road win of the season. The 84 points were the most IU has scored since the 110-point performance on Nov. 30 at Syracuse.
The pregame news of consequence was that after missing IU’s last seven games, Rob Phinisee was cleared to play for the Hoosiers. Trey Galloway was not dressed and out for the contest, while Khristian Lander was in uniform, but not expected to play.
With Galloway out, Mike Woodson once again started his opening night starting five: Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Miller Kopp, Race Thompson, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. The Gophers came out aggressively on Senior Night, scoring the first four points of the game. IU quickly responded.
In his return to his hometown state of Minnesota, Thompson lobbed a pass to Jackson-Davis for a thunderous slam. Jackson-Davis created some space for a second consecutive dunk to even up the score.
IU didn’t stop there. Johnson, who came off a spectacular performance against Maryland, drained a three to give IU its first lead of the game. Kopp, Thompson, and Stewart all scored shortly thereafter, and IU opened up a seven-point lead.
Johnson dominated the Gophers for the entirety of the first half. He was particularly proficient in his three-point shooting, taking advantage of a Gopher defense that sagged off of him on the perimeter. On multiple instances, he stepped into a three-pointer, and when that shot wasn’t available, he drove to the rim or dished to his teammates.
Johnson made four threes in the first half, setting a new season-high. He finished the first half with 16 points, three rebounds, and three assists. All figures either led all players or tied for the lead at the break.
Indiana continued expanding their lead after halftime. The Hoosiers scored the first five points after the break, with Jackson-Davis providing the majority of the points. The Gophers did not find their first point of the second half until 17:17 were left, but IU had opened up a double-digit lead.
The Hoosiers kept piling on without mercy. Stewart, who had two steals in the early moments of the second half, also grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and made a three-pointer.
Johnson fed Geronimo for a massive fast-break dunk. Kopp scored five straight points to get to 1,000 in his career. Phinisee made his first three since the shot that beat Purdue. When he made a second three two minutes later, IU opened up a gaping 27-point advantage.
Some boos were cascading down from the rafters at Williams Arena, and many fans started heading for the exits. However, the Gophers quickly went on a big run to get back into the game.
Seniors Payton Willis, E.J. Stephens, and Sean Sutherlin were the catalysts of Minnesota’s comeback. Willis and Stephens each made two threes, and combined with free throws, layups, and strong defense by Sutherlin, the Gophers suddenly found themselves down by just 10 with 3:10 to go.
After the final media timeout, Willis drained a three to bring Minnesota to within single digits, and the only thing that prevented the Gophers from drawing closer were free throws by Johnson and Jackson-Davis.
Even then, in the final minute, Willis made two more threes to bring him up to five triples over the final eight minutes. After Stephens knocked one down from deep, Minnesota trailed by just three with five seconds to go.
The fans at “The Barn” made deafening noise as Johnson stepped to the line. Coolly, IU’s best point guard in years made both to close out the game. He finished the game with 24 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and one turnover. The Hoosiers clinched a five-point win to help their tourney resume.
Clear your calendars. On Wednesday night, IU takes on fellow Big Ten bubble team Rutgers at Assembly Hall. Tip is scheduled for 7p ET on BTN. The loser of Wednesday’s game likely will not see their name called on Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament.
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