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With or without Xavier Johnson, Indiana basketball guards continue to be outplayed in big moments



Indiana basketball
No matter how productive the front court is for Indiana basketball, it needs its guards to start producing at a consistent level right away. (Indiana Athletics)

One of the biggest areas of concern heading into this season for Indiana basketball and head coach Mike Woodson was guard play — both talent and depth wise. Thus far through nine games, the production from Indiana’s backcourt has been anything but spectacular.

Its inconsistencies reared its ugly head again against Auburn over the weekend — but it was nothing new.

Indiana’s starting backcourt was outscored 36 – 17 and was outplayed beyond just the stats in the scoring column.

This was the third-straight game Indiana was missing sixth-year starting point guard Xavier Johnson and the lack of production behind him, especially with depth, was noticeable.

“Not having X — and I’m not using it as an excuse — I mean, he’s a senior point guard that scores the ball and makes plays for us especially when we’re being pressured like we were. That hurt,” Woodson said following IU’s 104-76 loss to Auburn. “But again, we showed some wonderful signs tonight against a good team and we just didn’t sustain over a 40-minute ball game.”

It was the third start for freshman Gabe Cupps and he turned in 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 2-of-3 on 3s and had five rebounds, two assists and zero turnovers in 31 minutes. He was a minus 21, however, the second-worst for the Hoosiers. Senior guard Trey Galloway had just six points on 3-of-5 from the field, one rebound and two assists in 22 minutes. He played just eight minutes in the first half before picking up two fouls.

For Auburn, it was both ends of the floor that its guards handled Indiana. Freshman guard Aden Holloway poured in 24 points on 7-of-11 from the field, including five made 3s.

Senior guard Denver Jones had 12 points and two 3s.

They were more physical, aggressive, quicker and smarter in every facet of the game — including from the tip.

“They just physically took us out of everything we wanted to do … it’s kinda like a carbon copy of the UConn game,” Woodsons aid. “We finally just caved in and that’s something we gotta get better in that area — putting together a full 40 minute ball game.”

Indiana started off hot getting out to a 22-10 lead. Then it was a 30-8 run by Auburn over the next 10 minutes to take complete control of the game.

Indiana went nearly nine minutes without a made field goal from the 10:13 mark to 1:41.

They were 0-of-10 over that span with five turnovers. It turned from a 26-20 lead to a 43-31 deficit.

“They turned up the ball pressure and didn’t allow passes to get swung around as easy and that slowed down our offense and led to them getting out in transition,” Cupps said.

Related: ‘We just caved in’: There’s no way around it — Indiana basketball gets embarrassed again on a national stage

Ball pressure was key all night long, and specifically in that nine minute stretch, it changed the game.

“We were able to — Indiana turned it over 12 times, so not a lot but we were able to captatlizze on those all night long. Without Xavier Johnson, they are thin at guard. And the thing about pressure is it an a cumulative effect,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “So at the end of the first half, after those guards were pressed all game … they turned it over four or five times late in the first half that created that margin for us and I think fatigue was a factor. If they had Xavier Johnson, a little bit more guard depth, they wouldn’t have been bothered as much by our ball pressure.”

Outside of Cupps and Galloway, there is no other ball handler on the roster with the injury to Johnson — at least that can play significant minutes on the ball.

Off of the bench, CJ Gunn had three points, three fouls and one turnover in 18 minutes. Anthony Leal had two points in nine minutes.

For the Tigers – there was no step down when they went to their bench. Tre Donaldson had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. KD Johnson had 14 points and three assists in 19 minutes.

In total, Auburn’s four regular rotational guards outscored Indiana’s four by a score of 60 – 22.

With or without Xavier Johnson, Saturday’s performance wasn’t the first time this year that the Indiana basketball guards have not only been outscored drastically, but also just flat out outplayed.

Against UConn, Indiana was outscored 52 – 21 by UConn’s four backcourt players. Like Saturday with Galloway, Xavier Johnson was in foul trouble the entire game — playing just 14 minutes with four fouls and just four points.

“They won the national championship last year for a reason. They’ve got really good guards,” Galloway said after the UConn 77-57 loss. “So I just think at the end of the day going back and watching the film and learning from it because that’s a good team that we just played.”

In both games, Indiana’s backcourt has been outscored on 3s by a total of 42 – 12. Auburn and UConn’s guards went 14-of-33 on 3s compared to Indiana’s 4-of-12 total.

The lack of punch from the perimeter, whether off of the catch or dribble, has been a factor in numerous games this year. But, especially in its two losses.

“They knew we were going to double down on their bigs,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said about Indiana. “They play inside-out and they came ready and knocked down some shots (early). The thing is, that’s just not who they are.”

“Just paint, paint, paint for them,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said earlier this year. “The three-point line is not something — at this point for them — that’s a strength.”

Previously: ‘Just paint, paint, paint for them’: Inability to shoot 3s for Indiana basketball makes for easy defensive work on opponents

On the season, Indiana’s guards are 15-of-52 from three — 28.8 percent. Trey Galloway hasn’t made a three in the last five games — going o-for-12 in that span.

Indiana is getting outscored 234 – 93 on 3s by opponents. Indiana basketball is averaging 3.1 made 3s per game.

Xavier Johnson is averaging 10.5 points but just 2.3 assists per game (1.7 turnovers). He has just two games with more than one assists — two. From your point guard, that’s not acceptable. But, it also goes with the theme of being unable to connect on 3s.

Trey Galloway is averaging 8.8 points but shooting 13.6 percent from three (3-of-22). Gabe Cupps is averaging 2.8 points and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 35 percent from the field. CJ Gunn is averaging 3.6 points and shooting 31.4 percent overall and 33.3 percent from three (3-of-9).

Here are some other notable results recently where Indiana’s guards have been outscored drastically.

vs Louisville: 33 – 22

vs Harvard: 37 – 11 (Two Harvard guards vs Four IU guards)

vs Maryland: 37 – 14

With or without Xavier Johnson, the Indiana basketball guards continue to get outplayed. No matter how productive the bigs have been — teams now know how to beat Indiana. It’s a simple formula; double the big men and make the guards hit shots — even open shots.

No matter how productive the front court is for Indiana, there needs to be more from its backcourt. At the end of the day, that’s going to be the position that will determine the outcome of every game moving forward.

Indiana basketball needs to get more from its backcourt and it needs to start producing at a consistent level right away.

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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.