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‘I was definitely motivated’: Indiana basketball guard Xavier Johnson responds in major way as his importance was highlighted in massive win over OSU



Indiana basketball guard Xavier Johnson
Indiana basketball guard Xavier Johnson responded to Mike Woodson's message and showed why he is so important to this team. (Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK)

Indiana basketball guard Xavier Johnson has struggled with foot injuries throughout his career in Bloomington, including one this season that caused him to miss seven games.

Johnson’s first two games back were a mixed bag. On Wednesday against Nebraska, he went scoreless in 15 minutes, with three assists and four turnovers. He turned around and helped lift Indiana to a massive 71-65 win on Saturday against Ohio State, scoring 18 points on 4-of-9 from the field with three assists and zero turnovers in 34 minutes.

His 34 minutes tied a season high.

“He was a little irritated at me (for Nebraska’s minutes), and I get that, because only played him 14 minutes. His 14 minutes were awful. I don’t care how you look at it, you get 14 minutes, you got to be positive, do some things to help us win the game. He didn’t do that,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “Today I told him at would shootaround I was going to play him, let him loose. I thought he was huge tonight.”

10 of Johnson’s 18 points came after halftime. He was one of just three Hoosiers to score in the second half. He was 4-of-9 from the field, 2-of-2 on 3s and 8-of-11 from the free throw line.

“I was definitely motivated,” Johnson said postgame. “I haven’t been myself lately. I’ve been off for a month, so I was trying to find a rhythm in that game. I was doing a little bit too much on the offensive end. Tonight I let the game to myself. I trusted my coaching staff, my teammates to make the right play.”

‘Motivated.’ — the words from Johnson to describe his feelings of late.

He returned on Wednesday against Nebraska for the first time since the first half against Harvard on Nov. 26. Saturday against Ohio State was his second game back — and he revealed after the game what had kept him out for over a month.

“It’s been challenging. A lot of people don’t know I had a crack in my foot that kept me away from basketball,” Johnson explained. “The month has been challenging. I tried to stay in it with my teammates, conditioning up. Just tried to be a positive impact on the team even though I’m not playing.”

After 19 turnovers against Nebraska, Indiana had just four against Ohio State, including just one in the second half.

A major part of that massive shift was the play of Johnson. His controlled aggression was key in controlling the tempo all night, especially in the second half when Indiana turned a nine-point deficit just two minutes in, to an 10-point game with 3:34 remaining.

Indiana outscored Ohio State 29-10 over that span.

“It brings a smile to my face. That’s all I can tell you. I mean, that was miserable sitting through that in Nebraska, just giving them the basketball,” Woodson said. “We talked about it. We watched the game when we came back as a team. After I watched it a couple times, it was just awful. But we rebounded from it. Learned from it. Only had four turnovers today, which is kind of nice.”

“That’s a big emphasis,” Johnson said of Woodson’s message around limiting turnovers. “That’s something that you rarely see from me, honestly. I’m an aggressive guard. I got to grow up, and I grew up tonight and got to keep growing up and not turn over the ball because my team needs me to make the right play every time.”

Saturday was a great first step in the return of Xavier Johnson for Indiana basketball. But, in order to put together more performances like against Ohio State, Johnson will need to continue at that high-level of play.

For better or worse, the importance of Xavier Johnson is evident and if Indiana wants to reach its potential and ceiling this year, it all comes down to Johnson and the consistency he can bring game in and game out.

“You know, I did feel like I was out of rhythm,” Johnson said. “Only had — as coach said, I only had a couple practices, and those practices we didn’t really play as much because the guys already game back from a game and I didn’t play and they had to get being back — get their bodies back right.

“I can’t make that excuse though. I’m a sixth-year guy. The team and Coach Woodson expects a lot out of me, and I’m going to give everything I got from the rest of the year on out.”

SEE ALSO: ‘High confidence in himself and fears nothing’: CJ Gunn excels as Indiana basketball outlasts Ohio State

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.