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Indiana-Purdue Rivalry Already Means A Lot to Xavier Johnson, Has Forever For Rob Phinisee

Even before he got to Bloomington, point guard Xavier Johnson knew all about the in-state rivalry between Indiana and Purdue. Now he's a part of it for the first time on Thursday night, and he can't wait. For fellow guard Rob Phinisee, the rivalry has been part of his life from the beginning. Both talked about it during Wednesday night's ''Point Guard Podcast.''
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There's a common misconception among fans that the heated Indiana-Purdue rivalry doesn't mean anything to the out-of-state players on the Hoosiers' roster.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Indiana point guard Xavier Johnson, a Woodbridge, Va., native, knows all about what this means, and he even knew it before he got here. It's Indiana and Purdue, and he can't wait to be a part of it for the first time on Thursday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

"I'm not going to lie, I knew what this rivalry was like beforehand,'' Johnson said during the "Point Guard Podcast'' on HoosiersNow.com on Wednesday night. "I'm a basketball fanatic, and I know all the rivalries. But just to be suited up in this rivalry, I'm ready to go. I'm ready to compete.

"I know the history behind Purdue and Indiana. It's a big rivalry. I know it's been nine straight times that they've beaten us, but this is a different team, and we're going to be locked and loaded.''

This is a big week for breaking streaks for Indiana. On Monday, they went to Nebraska and got a road win, their first after losing eight road games in a row. Thursday it's Purdue, and trying to shed that nine-game losing streak. They play Michigan on Sunday, and they've lost eight in a row to the Wolverines, too.

Getting over the hump was nice, and now they want to keep it rolling. The Hoosiers are 13-4 overall, 4-3 in the Big Ten and a perfect 11-0 inside Assembly Hall.

"This is a momentum changer for us, knowing that we could have won all four of our games on the road,'' Johnson said of the 78-71 win in Lincoln. "There was a big emphasis on winning that game, and breaking the ice.''

Johnson is looking forward to the electric atmosphere inside Assembly Hall on Thursday. He's seen a bit of it already, but Thursday will be ramped up another notch. The students are all back on campus, and for the first time all year, every seat will be full.

It will be fun, and it will be loud.

"Before I even came here, and even when I first got here, they told about what it's like, that the students will be out there early and they'll be handing out pizzas,'' Johnson said. "It's all about being ready for the game. I'm really looking forward to it.

"Basketball is a game of runs, especially in big games. I've got the ball in my hands the most, so I've got to be calm and make good decisions. We need to attack. Where P-Stew came from, he was a 20-point scorer and he got his points in multiple ways. When he's driving, he makes us better, and we need more of that.''

Indiana guard Xavier Johnson (0) dribbles the ball against Nebraska guard Trey McGowens (2) in the second half on Monday. (Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana guard Xavier Johnson (0) dribbles the ball against Nebraska guard Trey McGowens (2) in the second half on Monday. (Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports)

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For Phinisee, a Lafayette native, this rivalry is very local. He's grown up in it from a young age. He has friends on the Purdue team, and they'll run into each other often when he's home.

The senior has lost every game so far, and he really wants to end that.

"You just want to have some bragging rights,'' he said. "I have a couple of friends on the team at Purdue, and there's a little trash-talking, so beating them is really important.

"Obviously, I haven't beaten them, so I want to beat them really bad. It's usually just in person when you see them. At the end of the day, we're friends. It's bigger than basketball.'' 

"It really starts with communication. Our coaches have done a good job with the scout. It really comes down to just playing hard and breaking up their actions. The whole state's going to be watching, and the hype behind this game, it's a lot bigger than what it's been in the past. It's Coach Woodson's first game, and Purdue is ranked, so it's really a big game for both of us.''

Assembly Hall will be rocking, and Phinisee is looking forward to the boost.

"Our crowd can really give us a boost. If feel like when the crowd is rocking, you can go on those 10-0 runs and not even feel it,'' he said. "They can make it tough on teams.''

Phinisee has been productive off the bench lately, and Purdue has a deep team, too. Bench play is going to be critical on both sides.

"We're both deep teams, and we both have a lot of veterans. When we come in, coach just pushes that we play hard, and extend a lead when we can.'' he said. "I know we'll want to get (Purdue center Zach) Edey in ball screens and we'll want to get downhill and make plays. Me, X, Trey (Galloway_, even P-Stew and Miller (Kopp), we need big games, all of us. I feel like we've done a better job of playing inside-out and moving better. Having Trey back too has really helped.

"We're going to have to give them different looks and just make them beat us when they don't know what to expect. And when we have to rotate, we have to communicate and follow our assignments. “They are really hard to guard, the offense they run. They cut really hard, and their bigs set really good screens. So they are a difficult cover.”

Watch the full 'Point Guard Podcast'

  • OPENING LINE: Purdue is a modest favorite on Thursday night when the bitter in-state rivals get together for the first time this season. Here's the latest line on Indiana-Purdue, with a complete breakdown on both teams against the number. CLICK HERE
  • RELIVING MIKE WOODSON'S 1980 SEASON: Mike Woodson had one of the best playing careers in Indiana history from 1976 to 1980, but he left without a ring in the class between two national champions. What he accomplished in 1980 with a team ranked No. 1 in the preseason was both miraculous and courageous. Woodson and his 1980 teammates were featured in the book "Missing Banners,'' and those three chapters are included in this story. CLICK HERE
  • Here's how to get your copy of the book "Missing Banners,'' which chronicled the 1980 season, along with 1975, 1993, 2002 and 2013. 
    Here's how to get your copy of the book "Missing Banners,'' which chronicled the 1980 season, along with 1975, 1993, 2002 and 2013:
    • AUTOGRAPHED COPY: If you would like an autographed copy of the book. simply email Tom Brew at tombrew@hilltop30.com.
    • AMAZON.COM: The link to order the book on Amazon.com is here. CLICK HERE