Malik Reneau and Xavier Johnson lead Indiana to victory against Ohio State

  • 01/07/2024 7:17 am in

On Saturday night, Xavier Johnson and Malik Reneau came through for Indiana at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

The Hoosiers earned a 71-65 victory over Ohio State, with Johnson and Reneau leading the way. Ohio State had a one-point lead at halftime, but after the 15-minute mark of the second half, the Johnson and Reneau takeover began to unfold.

When Johnson – who missed seven games with a foot injury – is on the floor and playing like he did Saturday, this is a different Indiana team. It’s his second game back from injury, and he has already returned Indiana to the win column in a crucial spot.

The nature of how Johnson handles and distributes the ball gives Indiana a much different look offensively. His speed and craftiness create a new level of spacing for Indiana, something they don’t have when he’s off the floor. On the other end, Johnson has proved to be a reliable defender. Saturday’s win was a clear-cut example.

The senior guard finished with 18 points, three rebounds, and three assists, but his most significant impact was felt while he handled the ball. Johnson’s steadiness helped his teammates like CJ Gunn and Reneau to take off and push Indiana through in the second half. In 34 minutes of play, the Hoosiers were +16 with Johnson on the floor. The sixth-year guard finished with zero turnovers.

It was a bounce-back performance for Johnson. It’s his second year in a row dealing with an injury, and after a rusty performance against Nebraska three days ago, this type of production had him feeling like the player he strives to be.

“I was definitely motivated,” Johnson said. “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 come to myself. I trusted my coaching staff, trusted my teammates to make the right play.”

But Johnson wasn’t the only x-factor in the victory. Reneau was crucial for Indiana with a second-half offensive explosion.

After the first 20 minutes, Reneau had underwhelmed with just four points and two rebounds. It was a quiet first half, but the opposite happened in the second.

Reneau erupted in the final 20 minutes, scoring 19 of his 23 points. His offensive presence changed the game’s momentum, allowing Indiana to take control. He’s been Indiana’s most improved player this season while being the team’s most effective scorer at the same time. The Ohio State game is another game for Reneau to put on his resume after an already impressive 2023-2024 season. It was his game of the year scoring in double figures. After a halftime conversation with Mike Woodson, Indiana kept Reneau on the floor for all 20 minutes of the second half. The decision was a good one.

“I think I’ll let coach take all that credit,” Johnson said. “He told me — when we went back to the locker room, we told him, you got to pick your game up. You’re not playing as well. Malik responded. I just told him, I’ll find you. I’ll hit you in the pocket passes and go score the ball, and he did.”

Indiana’s first win of the 2024 year comes at a good time.

After Wednesday’s loss to Nebraska in Lincoln, the Hoosiers can feel good about this one, largely thanks to their starting point guard and forward. Indiana kept it close in the first half and even trailed by nine early in the second, but Johnson and Reneau’s play down the stretch carried the Hoosiers.

The duo combined for 29 of Indiana’s 34 second-half points.

The win, Indiana’s 11th of the season, improved the Hoosiers to 11-4 overall. And the program hopes it can be a building block. If Johnson and Reneau continue to perform this way, Indiana will have more success as it attempts to get into the NCAA tournament picture.

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