Originally found on Fox Sports:
Jan. 7, 2024 1:36 a.m. ET
Less than two minutes into the second half of Saturday night’s Big Ten showdown between Indiana and Ohio State, Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson called a timeout. The Buckeyes had come firing out of the locker room, scoring eight unanswered points to take a 46-37 lead.
Woodson and the Hoosiers learned the hard way back in mid-December just how tough it is to put up 40 complete minutes against a heavyweight when their upset bid fell just short against Kansas.
Now, while the Buckeyes aren’t the Jayhawks, Chris Holtmann’s team still entered the game at 12-2.
Was it going to be the same refrain for an Indiana team that lacked a signature moment this season?
Not on Saturday night. Indiana showed resilience.
The Hoosiers punched back behind sophomore forward Malik Reneau, who scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the final 18 minutes to lead IU past Ohio State for a 71-65 victory. It marked the first time Indiana has defeated the Buckeyes in back-to-back meetings since 2016-17.
What does the win mean?
Indiana, which is listed in Mike Decourcy’s “Next Four Out” in his latest bracket forecast, really needed this game to get the momentum of the season headed back in the right direction after a 16-point loss at Nebraska on Wednesday. The victory helped the Hoosiers improve to 11-0 against Quadrants 2, 3 and 4. They still have work to do, with an 0-4 record against Quad 1, but this was a much-needed result.
Here are three takeaways from the Hoosiers’ victory over the Buckeyes:
Malik Reneau is as improved as any player in the Big Ten Conference.
Woodson challenged the 6-foot-9 forward in the preseason to be an every-game guy. The former four-star recruit has gone from 6.1 points per game as a freshman to 16.1 per game as a sophomore, while raising his passing numbers to close to three assists per game. Posting 23-plus points in three of his last four games, Reneau has not only accumulated big-time numbers, but he’s done it efficiently, shooting 63% from the floor in Saturday’s win. He was the key to an extended 25-8 Indiana run that spanned 13 minutes in the second half, including a game-tying triple to even things up at 48 with just over 12 minutes left.
How did Reneau respond in the second half?
“I’ll let Coach (Woodson) take all the credit for that,” Indiana senior Xavier Johnson said following the win. “He told him, ‘You’ve got to pick your game up. You’re not playing as well.'”
Woodson has been hard on his talented sophomore, but it has paid off and is a display of player development in Bloomington.
“He put a lot of work in. He never really left campus. Got his weight down,” Woodson said. “The baby fat he had last year is trimmed down. You’ve got to tip your hat to him.”
For Indiana to reach the NCAA Tournament, it still starts and ends with Xavier Johnson.
So much of what Indiana did last year was geared around Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino, but when Johnson went down with a right foot fracture, it really hurt the Hoosiers’ ceiling. Johnson has missed seven games this year with a leg injury, and we can only wonder what would have happened against Kansas had he been able to play in the 75-71 loss back on Dec. 16.
But on Saturday night, Johnson reinforced that he is the Hoosiers’ most important piece. After a silent performance in his return on Wednesday against Nebraska, the sixth-year senior awoke and came up huge, looking like the player he needs to be for this team to go dancing come March.
In 34 minutes of action, Johnson put together the following stat line: 18 points, 4-of-9 FG, 8-of-11 FT, three assists, three rebounds, one steal, one block, and not a single turnover.
Johnson, who confirmed on Saturday night that he had a crack in his foot that sidelined him for a month, was candid postgame.
“I gotta grow up, and I grew up tonight, and gotta keep growing,” Johnson said. “Coach Woodson expects a lot out of me and I’m gonna give everything from here on out.”
With very winnable games against Rutgers and Minnesota ahead before a home matchup against No. 1 Purdue on Jan. 16, Johnson took a significant step forward on Saturday night. A Hoosiers team that has been offensively challenged at times needs that type of production going forward.
Indiana’s defense, a night to forget for the Buckeye sophomore stars, and the questions with Chris Holtmann’s team.
Indiana entered the night ranked 12th in the Big Ten in scoring defense. In Woodson’s first two years, he had a top-50 unit in the country on that end of the floor, according to Ken Pomeroy. So far this season? The Hoosiers’ defense ranks 93rd nationally. That’s not good enough, and it has pained Woodson to see.
On Saturday night, we saw vintage Hoosier defense at Assembly Hall.
Indiana locked down Ohio State’s sophomore duo of Roddy Gayle Jr. and Bruce Thornton, holding them to a combined 7-for-34 from the floor and 0-for-12 from 3-point land. It was a night to forget for both of the Buckeyes’ second-year stars.
But to take it one step further, it was a disappointing night for Holtmann’s team in general. Ohio State fell to 12-3 with the loss and lack a great result on the season. Eleven of the Buckeyes’ victories have come against Quadrant 3 and 4 teams. This would have been a second Quad 1 result, but instead, it dropped OSU to 2-2 in the Big Ten and leaves some questions for a team that has yet to prove it can be a legit contender come March.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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