I did not feel great about this game when I woke up this morning, and it was a sickness distinct from my Thanksgiving hangover. Buy games the day after a national holiday are a recipe for disaster, especially when you’re unsure of the health of your best player, as Indiana fans were entering today.
Mike Woodson and company did everything to address these concerns, and then some, in its 39 point victory over Jackson State early this afternoon. The team seemed to respond to the complaints that its win over Little Rock wasn’t convincing enough and set out to dominate the Tigers from the start.
There were some bumps early on, like when Jackson State first switched to a zone and briefly stymied the Indiana offense. By the end of the game though, Indiana turned in one of its most impressive performances of the year and remain undefeated ahead of its matchup with North Carolina this Wednesday.
Here’s Three Things:
It’s already been something of a trend this year, between the slow starts and the early zone from Jackson State, but the second unit provided an immediate spark for Indiana again today, beginning with Malik Reneau’s tie-breaking two to give Indiana an 11-9 lead and end the scoring drought.
The real story off the bench today, of course, is Tamar Bates, who scored a career-high 22 points on 4-6 shooting from beyond the arc. He looked the part of a former five-star recruit with a chip on his shoulder, playing hard on both sides of the ball and creating for teammates when he wasn’t hitting open shots.
Bates was also the beneficiary of the second unit’s overall defensive performance, racking up seven fast break points in a minute and 23 seconds of game time on a dunk, a layup, and a made three. While the starters struggled to crack the zone at first, the second unit came out and forced the issue on defense, allowing them to score in transition and avoid the half-court offense all together.
With Trey Galloway and Anthony Leal out again with injuries, we got to see a little more of both C.J. Gunn and Kaleb Banks, two freshman whose minutes may dwindle as the season goes on. The two combined for just seven points, but were instrumental in bringing the defensive energy that allowed Indiana to really open it up at the end of the half. Banks also got in on the fast break action and finished a dunk that put Indiana up 33-15.
Jackson State’s Zone
It’s not often that I am grateful for the coaching on the other side of such a lopsided victory, but I think that’s the best way to describe how I feel about Mo Williams’ decision to switch to a zone under three minutes into today’s game.
Strategically, the move made sense for Williams. With Trayce in the lineup today, it was clear that the Tigers would be outmanned in the paint today. And while there’s been an improvement in shooting percentage, Indiana has still avoided shooting a ton of threes so far this year.
Facing a zone was the best thing that could have happened to the Hoosiers today, as it forced the Hoosiers to get more creative than would have otherwise been necessary against the 304th ranked team in the country.
I wrote about it earlier this season, but Indiana hadn’t really been forced to shoot well from deep yet this year, which meant that guys like Xavier Johnson and Tamar Bates were getting relatively few attempts to heat up and find a shooting rhythm before the real challenges on the schedule.
Entering the game, Xavier Johnson had attempted just four 3-point attempts, while Bates was at 13 attempts on the year, averaging just 2.4 attempts per game. Today, Johnson and Bates attempted eight and four respectively, combining to hit eight of their 14 attempts.
I don’t know that either of these two would have had the chance to showcase their shooting abilities had Jackson State stayed in man-to-man, so I’m doubly grateful that Indiana got this kind of confidence boost ahead of what could be the most anticipated game of the season.
Those who were concerned that TJD could miss the North Carolina game got some reassurance today with Trayce’s return to the starting lineup. He did not look one hundred percent healthy, but it was clear that he wanted to be out there and was still physically capable of some dominant moments.
Within the first seven seconds of the game, Trayce had already drawn a foul and made his way to the free throw line for the team’s first point of the game. Mike Woodson made it clear that when he is healthy, he is The Guy for the Hoosiers.
Because of how well the bench was playing, Trayce was able to play a light 19 minutes today, during which he scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. At points, even the 19 minutes he did play looked excessive as he moved gingerly down the court on a few transition plays, when he normally would have been sprinting to catch an oop.
I would have maybe liked Woodson letting him rest more, but understand that TJD himself probably wanted to be out there today to ease concerns about his status for the UNC game. Still, it was good to see him out there at all today and is definitely encouraging to know that Indiana will be close to full strength when it takes the court again in five days.