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Indiana Basketball Game Preview: North Alabama – key storylines, injury report, how to watch



Indiana basketball
(Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana basketball continues its 124th season of competition at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against North Alabama. The Hoosiers are coming a very scary yet close win over Morehead State to keep on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

North Alabama (6-6) is led by sophomore guard Jacari Lane. The reigning ASUN Freshman of the Year averages 13.4 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per night. Senior guard KJ Johnson leads the team in scoring at 13.9 per night, while senior forward Damian Forrest pulls down a team-best 8.5 rebounds a game. UNA is led by sixth-year head coach Tony Pujol. He led the Lions to their first NCAA Division I postseason game with an appearance in the CBI Tournament in 2014.

Tip off is scheduled for 8:30 ET on BTN.

Below is the full preview of Indiana basketball vs North Alabama in Bloomington.

Key Storylines

Is Anthony Walker the most consistent piece to the Indiana bench? 

Nobody on Indiana’s bench has played with the most consistency than senior forward Anthony Walker and in the close win vs Morehead State, he was rewarded with a career game of 18 points and 9 rebounds in 22 minutes of action.

“Phenomenal. He deserves the MVP tonight,” Mike Woodson said about Walker’s performance. “He played 22 minutes, had 18 points, nine rebounds. By far his best game since he’s been wearing an Indiana uniform. We needed every bit of it to win this game tonight.

Indiana’s bench has been hot and cold throughout the year thus far and has never really gotten any sustainable traction. Other Walker’s consistency, guys like CJ Gunn, Kaleb Banks, and Payton Sparks have been hot or miss as far as production. Through 11 games this season, he is averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. His stat line is the best of any second unit player of Indiana basketball.

Walker has proven that he can come in for either Ware to Reneau and the frontcourt production does not take a step down.

“Yeah, that’s just a part of being on this team,” Anthony Walker said after the Morehead State win. “We know everyone is capable of being the most scorer or the most rebounder, whatever the case may be in a given night. Not just me being ready but everyone coming off the bench and the starters that play most of the minutes. Just being ready, making sure that Coach Woody trusts me and always being ready for the moment.”

This Indiana basketball team desperately needs Xavier Johnson back sooner than later

The Indiana backcourt is extremely depleted right now. With Anthony Leal seemingly back out of the rotation again, Indiana is left with Trey Galloway, Gabe Cupps, and CJ Gunn. As the game vs Morehead State went on, CJ Gunn didn’t see any action in the second half and Mike Woodson even elected to go with Kaleb Banks to play some of the two guard.

Indiana basketball needs Xavier Johnson in the worst way possible.

The Hoosiers have not had their senior lead guard in the last 5 games and it has shown. Exhaustion has set in, stagnant offense has shown, and costly turnovers have reared its ugly head. Not having your starting quarterback, the guy that knows where the ball needs to be at all time, is killer for any team, let alone Indiana.

The good sign is, it does not look it will be too much longer before Xavier Johnson is back on the floor. The backcourt rotation just needs to hold it down just a little while longer.

The offense and on ball defense should really see a boost once Johnson is back on the floor.

The excuses have to stop, time to play with a chip on your shoulder 

The Morehead State win might have been the most frustrating win in the Mike Woodson era if you were to ask any Indiana basketball fan. Indiana faced a team that was blown out by Alabama, Purdue, AND Penn State.

Yes, you cannot take any opponent for granted, but when you are a high major program like Indiana, there are times you just have to take care of business and play like the better team. This year, Indiana has not shown a killer instinct in any game no matter who the opponent is.

“Learning how to win,” “exhaustion,” “putting together a complete game”…..those excuses are getting a little old at this point. The excuse last game was a “hangover” of how well Indiana played vs Kansas….but the question is how can you use that excuse when you didn’t win the game?

“My thing is it should never be that way,” Mike Woodson said on Tuesday. “When you’re playing this game of basketball, and especially when you’re playing here at home, you should never have highs and lows like that,” Woodson said of the difference in first halves from Saturday to Tuesday. “The Kansas game was a great game. I thought we did a lot of good things in that game, but we just fell short. That doesn’t mean you come back the next game and lay an egg to start the game. That’s unacceptable. That’s on me, man. I was very disappointed in how we played the first half. That should never be.

“It wasn’t real pretty. Based on how we were playing. We were awful … Our fans don’t come out to see stuff like that. I was very disappointed.”

The Hoosiers have got to find a some kind of chip to place on their shoulder moving forward. These next two games, Indiana has to show they mean business and can be the toughest team from start to finish.

More: Indiana basketball survives against Morehead State as Anthony Walker shines in the win

Series History

The two programs have met two previous times on the basketball court. Indiana won both meetings by scores of 91-65 (Nov. 12, 2019) and 87-52 (Dec. 13, 2020) in Bloomington.

Trey Galloway, a freshman at the time, scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor in 21 minutes off the bench in the last matchup between the Hoosiers and Lions. Anthony Leal posted four points, three rebounds, and three assists in 14 minutes of run.

The game marks the second of three opponents on the schedule from the Atlantic Sun Conference. Indiana opened the season with a 69-63 win over Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 7) and will host Kennesaw Stats (Dec. 29) in the final non-conference contest of the season. IU is 20-1 against the ASUN.

Read: Indiana basketball was lifeless until late run sparked major comeback win — but it doesn’t take away the overall performance

Injury Updates


Xavier Johnson: Xavier Johnson missed the last five games due to a foot injury. The good sign however, was that Johnson was seen without his boot so his progression seems to be trending upward. His status is questionable heading into this game. Mike Woodson provided an update on Johnson on Monday.

“He’s still going to be out. I don’t know how long,” Woodson said. “He’s doing some work on the stationary bike and elliptical. He’s doing some work there. He’s not back out on the floor yet. Hopefully soon. We need our senior point guard back.”

Jakai Newton: Newton had a lower body surgical procedure done this past offseason to help fix a previous injury he sustained during high school. He is still recovering and is not expected to play awhile at this point.

Quick Hitters

Who?: Indiana (8-3) vs North Alabama (6-6)

When?: Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023 • 8:30 PM ET

Where?: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (17,222) • Bloomington, Ind.

TV: BTN (Cory Provus, Trent Meachem)

Radio: IU Radio Network (Don Fischer, Errek Suhr, John Herrick)

Betting Lines: Indiana basketball is listed as a 13.5-point favorite vis DraftKings Sportsbook

See Also: ‘He was tremendous’: Former Indiana basketball forward Trayce Jackson-Davis has first career double-double in major OT win

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Kyler Staley is a Basketball Recruiting Analyst for Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Kyler has been in the basketball recruiting industry since 2019 and is a credentialed media member. He has covered Indiana since 2021 while continuing to also work for Prep Hoops Indiana. He has previously worked for Rivals.