Crean doesn’t want Johnson to lose confidence as struggles continue

There was a time when Robert Johnson was Indiana’s most consistent end-to-end player.

But recently, Johnson can’t seem to shake a recent offensive funk.

During his last seven games, Johnson has looked unlike the steady junior guard that the Hoosiers have come to know. It’s been a sudden, unexpected fall for Johnson, who is coming off a scoreless performance on Wednesday at Minnesota — his since last season’s Big Ten opener.

It’s not just about the lack of scoring for Johnson, whose repeated turnover issues have also gone unsolved. If Indiana is going to have a chance to salvage what remains of the final four games of the regular season, Johnson will need to return to form.

His role on IU’s team is too important for him to continue on his current downward trajectory. Johnson’s secondary backcourt scoring, particulary from long range, is pivotal to Indiana’s offense. Defensively, he’s earned a reputation as one of IU’s most consistent backcourt defenders during the past three seasons.

But something is strangely amiss for a player who has quickly changed from a reliable contributor into a liability.

“I’m not going to let him lose his confidence,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “… I’m not going to let him, and I got a staff of guys that won’t let him and he’s got a team full of guys that won’t let him.”

Indiana has lost six of its last seven games, a stretch that has coincided with Johnson’s dropoff.

Since IU beat Michigan State, 82-75, on Jan. 21, Johnson’s game has gone into a tailspin.

Johnson shot 51 percent from 3-point range during his first seven Big Ten games, but only managed to make 26 percent of his shots from beyond the arc during the past seven games.

“We want to keep simplifying the game for him,” Crean said. “Going into (Wednesday at Minnesota), he was shooting almost 60 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s. He missed some of those. They were open.”

Although his turnover rate has always been higher than ideal, Johnson was displaying improved ball security early in the conference season, turning it over 1.8 times per game. But since the win over the Spartans, Johnson’s errors have spiked to 3.5 times per game.

Lately, his turnovers have become particularly egregious.

Johnson had two in a minute’s span on Wednesday at Minnesota, then committed his third by putting too much zip on a three-quarters court bounce pass to Blackmon late in the 75-74 loss to the Gophers.

Minnesota outscored IU by 11 points during the 26 minutes Johnson, who came off the bench for the second time this season, was on the floor.

Crean says Johnson is one of the many Hoosiers who are adjusting to increased defensive attention in the wake of OG Anunoby’s season-ending injury. Even so, after he’s averaged 4.3 points during the past three games, Johnson is the Hoosier most in need of a return to form.

Crean says he and his staff are committed to finding that fix.

“We won’t let him lose his confidence,” Crean said. “He got good things (on Wednesday). He was doing a good job guarding. (The shots) just didn’t go. We’re not going to let him get down. He means too much. I love him. He’s too valuable.”