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Indiana Bounces Back With Blowout Win Over Penn State

Indiana came out of the gates blazing, and cruised to an easy 74-57 victory over Penn State on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall, getting their 15th win of the year.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — You wanted a fast start for a change from Indiana? Check. Better three-point shooting? Yep, that too. Lockdown defense? Well, that's often a given, but it was over-the-top great in the Hoosiers' 74-57 win over Penn State on Wednesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly.

The final score was even deceiving. The Hoosiers, who scored the first 12 points of the game and had a 29-point lead late in the first half, gave up a late 11-0 run. that, in the big picture, didn't really matter.

With the win, Indiana moved to 15-5 on the season, and 6-4 in the Big Ten. Penn State, which beat Indiana on Jan. 2, fell to 8-9 and 3-6 in league play.

"Wow, we sure caught them at the wrong time,'' Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. "They played great, and we didn't really have any answer for them.''

The fast start was a must for the Hoosiers, who have been struggling out of the gate for the past several weeks. There's been a lot of talk for a week or more about the starting five stepping up, and they did just that. Point guard Xavier Johnson led the Hoosiers with 19 points, Race Thompson had 18 points and Trayce Jackson-Davis added 15.

Johnson, who was hearing boos from Indiana fans a month ago, had another exceptional game. He was 7-for-12 shooting, made all three of his three-pointers and both free throws. He also had six assists, four rebounds and a blocked shot.

"That's something we have to bring every single game as starters,'' Thompson said. "That's the main thing. We just talked about it for the past two days of getting off to better starts because I think Coach (Mike Woodson) said we were something like minus-47 over the past four games or something, or however many games, so I think we just talked about that as a unit, and we came out, we responded. 

"Xavier, he's getting everybody involved, and also getting himself involved when he needs to. He really helps set the pace of the game, and then again, it starts for him on defense. I know if I see X playing defense and he is getting a steal, I know he is going down to finish or dish to somebody. He's is just getting everybody involved, making everybody feel good. I think he really helps our team. I think he will continue to do that.''

Thompson was excellent, too. He was 6-for-10 shooting, made both of his threes, including one early to get the Hoosiers rolling, and made all four of his free throws. Jackson-Davis was 5-for-8 from the field, 5-for-6 from the line and had four blocked shots. Indiana had 10 blocks and eight steals on the night.

"It was probably our best half that we put together in the Big Ten,'' Woodson said. "We kept some teams to 20 in a half earlier, but to do it against a Big Ten team was great. Our defense was really, really good the first half. 

The only sour news was injury-related. During the first half, senior guard Rob Phinisee came up hobbling with some sort of non-contact injury to his lower leg. Woodson had no comment on his status after the game, other than to say he would be further evaluated on Thursday. Johnson played the entire second half at point guard, with a banged-up Khristian Lander also not able to play.

"Rob, we don't know right now. He's got to be evaluated sometime tomorrow,'' Woodson said. "Khristian's not ready to play either. That's why he didn't play tonight. It's strictly physical. I would have stuck him in there tonight if I could have when Rob went down.''

Johnson didn't mind carrying the load at the point. In the past three games, he's played 100 minutes and had only five turnovers. He's averaging 17 points a game in that stretch and has had back-to-back six-assist games.

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"Xavier, the game is starting to slow down a little bit for him,'' Woodson said. "The Big Ten forces you to think about what you're doing.  His last three games, he's been very productive.'' 

Penn State made eight three-pointers in the second half after going 1-for-10 in the first. They cut Indiana's lead from 28 to 14 with 3:15 left, but then the Hoosiers flipped the script again. Johnson scored on a layup and then hit a three to stop the bleeding.

Woodson didn't like all the easy shots the Hoosiers were allowing, especially after closing out on shooters so well in the first half. 

"I wasn't real happy about it. They were still trying to execute. I thought the first half we were locked in. In the second half, they made us pay for it.''

Woodson was thrilled to see the Hoosiers knock down some long balls, too. That's been an issue lately. Indiana has shot over 50 percent from deep only twice (Louisiana, Marshall) this year, and he 10-for-13 mark was the best performance in almost two decades.

It was Indiana’s best 3-point shooting performance on at least 10 makes since the Elite 8 win over Kent State on March 23, 2002 when the Hoosiers were 15-of-19 (64.3%) from deep.

"I thought the ball movement was great in the first half,'' Woodson said. "We got good looks when the defense couldn't catch up, and we got some quick strikes.'' 

Woodson said the Hoosiers went after it hard in practice on Tuesday after the disappointing 80-62 loss at home to Michigan on Sunday, their first of the eyar at Assembly Hall. Woodson called it "a gut-check practice'' and it paid off. 

Yeah, I think we took it personally,'' Thompson said of Woodson's challenge to his veteran starters." I think it really was just about energy, just calming down a little bit, playing with more energy, but at the same time being composed and really keying in on what they're doing.

"It really just starts for us on defense. If we can get some stops, we're feeling good about ourselves, and then our offense will come.''

Shrewsberry, who got his first career Big Ten win against Indiana on Jan. 2, was impressed with how the Hoosiers defended.

"They were ready to go from the start, and they dominated from start to finish,” said Shrewsberry, a former Purdue assistant. “Their defense was more aggressive. You’ve got to be able to run through it if guys are holding you. They pressured us, and we couldn’t get off of ball screens. Our guards weren’t very good setting them up and coming off of them. We need to be a tougher team the next time. 

"But like I said, credit to them. They were great. They’ve been playing like this at home except for the last game (against Michigan). They had one blip where they didn’t play like this at home. But this is what they do. They really shut people down. Their defense has been fantastic. Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and Race (Thompson) are dominant at the rim, which allows those guards to get up and pressure you a lot more. And that’s what they did. That’s what they did to us. They totally took us out of what we wanted to do. And then once it got going like that, we were a little bit shell-shocked and that’s what happens.”