Johnson looks to end funk

For Indiana to achieve short-term goals in coach Archie Miller’s first season, it needs Robert Johnson to author an All-Big Ten-caliber season.

So far, the senior guard is still finding his way.

As the semester draws to a close, Johnson has endured an uneven 10-game stretch to start the season. He’s given the Hoosiers a valuable presence on the defensive end, often drawing the toughest assignment on a given night. Offensively, however, Johnson has struggled to step into the primary scoring role this IU team needs him to occupy.

Saturday’s 0-for-6 showing from the field marked only the fourth time in the four-year starter’s career that he went scoreless in a game, underscoring what was a rather unfortunate showing across the board from Indiana guards challenged by Louisville’s length.

Johnson has been able to get his offensive game going this season when he’s found lanes to attack the basket.

On Saturday, those lanes were often clogged or unavailable.

“There weren’t very many seams for our guards to drive,” Miller said. “When they did drive, they were either challenged at the basket, or we shot a layup and fell down because we didn’t get the call. … Once you get in there against these guys as a perimeter guy, you gotta be really good. You gotta have a mid-range game, you gotta be able to play above the rim, you have to be able to have contact. Our guards aren’t able to do that. I just didn’t feel Rob had very many seams tonight.”

He did have some open looks from the perimeter, but missed each of his four 3-point attempts. The shooting funk that plagued Johnson during the second half of last season seems to have carried over into this year, while the Virginia native feels his way into a new role and raised expectations under Miller.

Johnson, who shot 44 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore, saw his long-range shooting figure drop to .370 as a junior after he went through a 7-for-42 3-point slump across an eight-game stretch late in the 2016-17 season. He eventually broke out of it with a 26-point performance in the regular-season finale at Ohio State.

Entering Saturday’s Crossroads Classic matchup with Notre Dame, Johnson finds himself in a 2-for-16 slump from 3-point range spanning his past four games.

The belief amongst his peers is that the senior is due for a breakout.

“We tell him he’s the best shooter on the team every time,” junior Juwan Morgan said. “I still believe in that confidence that he’ll knock down every shot he takes. I just tell him every time, ‘Look, you’re thinking too much. Let it go. We know you can shoot. Just shoot it.'”

On his weekly radio show shortly after Johnson recorded his 1,000th career point in November, Miller acknowledged the growing curiosity with Johnson’s offensive production while lauding his contributions as one of the team’s most reliable defenders.

If Johnson keeps playing hard as a defender, Miller said, the rest of his game will return in time.

“Down the other end, he’s as solid of a guy as we have,” Miller said after Saturday’s loss. “We count on him every day to be the leader and he’s gonna finish this season very, very strong because of his attitude. One bad game doesn’t define his season.”

3 comments

  1. Ugh! Haven’t tuned in for a while; football sucks and is directionless as usual, and basketball is going through growing pains under new regime. Looks like we won’t be getting a Gillespie-to-Calipari type transition here at IU. Archie will put it together in time!

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