Indiana’s Xavier Johnson on No. 12 seed: ‘They’ll pay for it’
DAYTON, Ohio -- "They'll pay for it."
That's the tweet Indiana guard Xavier Johnson fired off Sunday after the Hoosiers were paired up with Wyoming in the First Four game tonight in Dayton, Ohio.
It's simple really. The junior thinks his squad deserved a better fate after winning a pair of games in the Big Ten Tournament and taking eventual champion Iowa to the brink in Indianapolis.
"Definitely going to make us play with a chip on our shoulder," Johnson said Monday afternoon during the Hoosiers' media session inside UD Arena. "I'm not disappointed we didn't make it -- we made it. We came ready to play. The two guys next to me (Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson), we're going to get the team ready to play, as well. It didn't put a chip on just my shoulder; it put the team -- we're all going to play with a chip on our shoulder, honestly."
Johnson, who averages12.3 points per game and is hitting shots at a 41.3% clip, will pose a challenge for Wyoming's guards, mainly Hunter Maldonado.
We know what the Cowboys guard wants to do -- back down a smaller defender in the post, then spin and weave his way to the hoop. If that doesn't work, the hook shot typically does.
Maldonado said he knows what Johnson plans to do, too.
It's nothing new.
"I think it's something we've kind of seen in our conference with teams pushing the pace and then having some three or four teams that do slow it down," the senior from Colorado Spring said on Monday. "So, it's not the first time we've seen it. It will just be a team effort. We'll try to play to our style and stick to our habits."
Over his last seven games, Johnson has added a new threat to his game -- he's sinking threes. Lots of them. Like, 14 on his last 28. You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that percentage.
For comparison's sake, Johnson hit just 7-of-24 of those in the seven outings before that. Twice during that span, he failed to connect at all.
In those three games in the league tourney, Johnson averaged 16.6 points per game and splashed 5-of-11 from deep.
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Abu Kigab, Boise State's leading scorer and the MVP of last week's Mountain West Tournament, hit 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in a 68-61 win over Wyoming in the semifinals. Maldonado shouldered that blame, saying he needed to be more aggressive from the jump.
How do the Hoosiers, specifically the 6-foot-3 guard, plan to slow down Maldonado?
"I believe he's a good player, playing in the Midwest, averaging 18 points, six assists," Johnson said of UW's 6-foot-7 point guard. "That's big-time, but I don't think he's played against the type of guard that's actually going to pressure him a lot up the floor. So, I'm just ready to compete tomorrow against him."
Jackson-Davis, who will square off tonight with Wyoming (25-8, 13-5) big man Graham Ike, has also paid attention to Maldonado on film. He knows he will be trying to come into his area, too.
"We've got to be locked in on defense, take away the stuff they want to do and just communicate with each other," he said. "I think we have the best defense in the league -- in the Big Ten -- and one of the best in the country. We're just going to have to show it."
The numbers bear that out.
Indiana (20-13, 9-11) is holding its opponents to just 65.9 points per game. 1,898 shots have been attempted by the opposition this season. Just 742 of those have hit the mark. That leads the conference and ranks the Hoosiers No. 17 in the country.
Still, Maldo won't change his approach. His head coach won't allow it.
"Maldo knows when he plays fast I get mad at him," Jeff Linder joked. "The way that we use him and the way that he plays, we're really unorthodox in terms of using him as kind of the old-school Mark Jackson, Gary Payton, Charles Barkley (type of player) -- get him into a lot of dribble-downs to where he can use his size. He's an incredible passer.
"People think it looks easy to be able to dribble down and back your guy down from 19 feet. Well, in reality, it's hard to do."
Wyoming's second-year bench boss said Maldonado is comfortable no matter who is thrown at him.
"If you try to put a bigger guy on him, now he's quick enough and he's shifty enough to where he can create angles that way, too," he continued. "So, he's a tough matchup."