A little confidence goes a long way for Johnson

Before he entered Saturday’s postgame handshake line at Minnesota, and before he had a chance to digest the game he had just played, Robert Johnson stood near midcourt and embraced Indiana strength and conditioning coach Clif Marshall.

As Johnson has navigated the crests and troughs of an inconsistent senior season, he has clung tightly to advice from Marshall, wisdom that propelled him to one of best single-game performances of his career this past weekend.

“Me and coach Clif always talk about (how) faith is the size of a mustard seed,” Johnson said. “That’s something I really looked at.”

In this transitional year, results have been slow to surface for the Hoosiers. Johnson, thrust into a role of prominence as a four-year starter, has, perhaps, shouldered the burden of expectations and results more than most.

With Indiana searching for traction in the Big Ten, continuing with tonight’s 6:30 tip-off against Penn State, Johnson holds faith that he and his teammates will get things figured out.

Right now, coming off Saturday’s win over the Golden Gophers, Johnson believes a little confidence can go a long way.

“When you have faith, I feel like, you don’t have to play uptight,” Johnson said. “You just have to play as hard as you can and do whatever you can to help the team win. Once I focused on that, it just opened up.”

Naturally, that’s a positive development in the eyes of Indiana coach Archie Miller. In Miller’s estimation, Johnson and the rest of IU’s perimeter players have played tightly and without freedom through the first two months of action.

Miller wants them to play with more aggression and more punch, while doing a better job of playing through mistakes. Johnson’s career-high 28 points and seven assists were among the bright spots at Minnesota, but the rest of IU’s backcourt didn’t offer much.

Josh Newkirk, Al Durham and Devonte Green combined to shoot 1-for-13 from the field with five assists against five turnovers.

“Hopefully as we get a little bit more down the line, we can start to see some growth there, where Josh is playing well, Rob is playing well, Al is playing well, Devonte is playing well,” Miller said. “If you ever get a combination of those guys playing well, we’re a lot harder to deal with. In some better games this season, (when) we’ve showed we can play at a higher level, we usually have a couple of those guys step up.

“That’s going to be a big key. Everyone is going to have to raise our level of play. Our backcourt has the biggest room for growth for our team. In my mind, they’re not playing as well as they can. I think we have to be able to, as a staff, bring more confidence to them.”

That’s something Marshall, the strength coach, has tried to bring to Johnson.

While team and individual results have been slow to come, Johnson is adamant about finding and keeping confidence.

Determined to solve the long-range shooting woes that have plagued him this season, Johnson has been one of the hardest working players in IU’s program. Johnson’s work ethic was among the first things that impressed Miller upon his arrival last spring and it continues to give the Indiana coach hope that Johnson will correct his .317 shooting percentage from beyond the arc.

Most of all, Miller was pleased to see Johnson playing aggressive basketball at Minnesota. It wasn’t altogether perfect basketball, but it may be the springboard Johnson needs to author the happy ending to his senior season.

For Johnson, even the smallest developments count. He’s just trying to keep the faith.

“Rob played big,” Miller said. “He had big finishes there at the end, big free throws. That’s what a senior does. I’m proud of him. He’s a great kid, he works his butt off and it was good to see him break through with a big game.”

One comment

  1. Me too, Archie! It sure was nice to see Robert Johnson break through with a big game. I’ve found one player I can root for (# 3) and, for me, this season is beginning to be a lot more fun. I’m glad to see De’Ron not playing with pain anymore and getting the treatment he needs and deserves, and look forward to his return when he’s H E A L T H Y. I like all that Archie is saying and am totally pumped for the early start (6:30) against Penn State. Me thinks they will be a little sleepy and we’ll absolutely run them off the court 1st half and hopefully hang on for another big win.

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