Freshman guards exude confidence for No. 12 men’s basketball in Indiana despite slow starts

Conditions like these are never easy.

A wire-to-wire win in Cincinnati, Ohio Friday night. Immediately afterwards bus ride to Indianapolis. A free day with nowhere else to train but in a too small training facility of the hotel.

Even with the opportunity to play in an electric atmosphere — an NBA arena packed with Hoosier fans — Indiana’s slow start against Miami University (Ohio) was almost inevitable.

The Hoosiers led only 8-6 at the first media timeout and then fell 11-12 in the first half with 11 minutes left. Indiana regained the lead but failed to extend it by double digits until the two-minute mark indicated a 36-26 score.

Without junior guard Trey Galloway, who was out with a minor knee injury, the Hoosiers had a smaller group of staff to watch out for for a much-needed boost of energy. And when freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino’s first few shots didn’t come, it seemed the rookie’s early-season slump would continue during Indiana’s slow start.

Thankfully, the Hoosiers were able to heal both wounds.

Head coach Mike Woodson replaced Galloway’s rotation spot with ultra-confident freshman guard CJ Gunn. Gunn made an immediate impression, recording a rebound, an assist, a block and two steals in his nine minutes of the first half. He finished the half on a plus-minus 17, second on the team, behind only older forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.

“My big thing is always to be the next man when someone gets hurt,” Woodson said. “When called, be ready to play.”

As for Hood-Schifino, his reluctance to self-incriminate and ability to continue to be a positive presenter helped him and his overall presence helped him emerge from a cold patch. After starting the regular season with just 18 points in three games, the freshman shot his way out of the bottom and finished with 12.

“He took some shots tonight, looking good,” Woodson said. “It’s just the other things he does on the ground: he defends, he rebounds, he supports, he guides your ball racquet. He’s a freshman; I’m not worried about shot making. Jalen will be there when it matters most. He’s able to take big shots.”

Hood-Schifino’s teammates know what he’s capable of and they weren’t surprised when their youngster burst into play after a slow start to play a much smoother second half.

“It’s one of those things where … you put the work into it and it doesn’t show up right when you want it to,” Graduate Guard Miller Kopp said. “It’s like marinating chicken: you have to put it in the fridge for maybe six, eight hours and then put it on the grill and it tastes a lot better that way.”

Gunn continued his strong performance in the second half, scoring five points with a three-pointer and a monster dunk. The newcomer looked supremely confident from the start of the season, proving to be one of the Hoosiers’ pure shooters and most explosive guards on both offense and defense.

“CJ is fine. He’s in a good place,” Woodson said. “When he’s called out I expect him to come out and play and give us positive minutes. I’m trying to win basketball games and I’m going to play the guys that I think I can win and he was a part of us that won.”

Behind freshman phenomena, a 17-point, 16-rebound performance from Jackson-Davis and an athletic freak show from junior forward Jordan Geronimo, who had five blocks in 19 minutes, the Hoosiers ended the night with one dominant 86-56 win.

What started as a cause for concern — not knowing how Indiana would handle the Xavier hangover — ended as an encouraging spectacle for the tale of two newly minted guards: the one who shook himself out of a funk to assert himself as a true leader and the one , who has proven how high he can fly when given the chance.

Follow reporter Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.
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