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Three Things: Indiana Men’s basketball wins at Illinois 80-65

Are we back?

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s suddenly some light at the end of the tunnel for an Indiana team that looked completely lost after Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson went down with injuries. The Hoosiers took their defense on the road today, holding Illinois to 65 in a game that Kenpom had them losing 77-72.

Whatever adjustments Mike Woodson made on the defensive end ahead of the Wisconsin game appeared to have stuck, though the offense did look a little shaky to start the game. After turning the ball over twice in the first three offensive possessions, Woodson called a quick time out to get the group to settle in, only down 4 at that point.

From there, it was mostly smooth sailing, as Indiana got up to a 19 point lead in the first half that it extended to 20 in the second half. Tonight’s game was Indiana’s second true road win on the year, and arguably looks better than the Xavier win right now considering how hot the Illini were entering the game.

Here’s Three Things:

Trayce Jackson-Davis

In Indiana’s last game against Illinois, Trayce Jackson-Davis put up 21 points against Kofi Cockburn in a two-point victory that propelled the Hoosiers into the NCAA tournament after a midseason slouch. Dain Dainja (at this stage in his career) is nowhere near the player Kofi Cockburn, but for some reason, Brad Underwood left him on Trayce with no help for most of tonight’s game.

Predictably, Trayce took full advantage, putting on his best performance of the year with a season-high 35 points, to go along with nine rebounds, five assists, and three blocks. To say he was the best player on the floor tonight is still somehow a massive understatement.

I would think it’s highly unlikely that another Power Five basketball coach will try to defend Trayce the way Underwood did, so he’s not going to get 15 or so clean looks every game like he did tonight. Still, his five assists led Indiana and he had some crisp passes to Miller Kopp when the double team started coming late in the second half.

Most importantly, Trayce has looked healthy the last two games. Back injuries can be fickle, but he’s been back to 4-5 dunks per game and being able to stretch the floor against some of the less mobile, Just Big guys in the conference.

I’d like to see him be able to get a little more rest, since he got back to the 35 minute mark tonight after playing 33 against Wisconsin and Penn State. Malik Reneau looked more confident and poised tonight though, so there’s hope that he could come in for more extended runs when Trayce needs a break.

Jordan Geronimo

Presumably part of the reason that Brad Underwood felt the need to leave just one guy on Trayce was Jordan Geronimo’s strong play tonight. In the first half, he went 6/6 from the field for 13 points, which was the game high at that point.

Geronimo was probably the guy who benefited the most from Woodson’s early timeout, having played a part in both of Indiana’s early turnovers. He came out of the timeout locked in, playing solid defense all night, grabbing eight rebound and tying Trayce’s game-high three blocks. Illinois had two blocks on the night.

It’s not a coincidence that Indiana has won the last two games when Jordan Geronimo has played at this level. His 12 and 13 point performances in the last two games have both been season-highs for him and tonight’s game showed a more disciplined shot selection - even a made three.

He’s still not the perimeter defender that Race is when healthy, so I’ll be a little concerned when Indiana plays a team like Iowa that will kill you from 3. Race could be back by then though, and there are plenty of teams in the conference that will want to try to bang in the paint against Geronimo, who’s starting to look like a starting Big Ten power forward.

Foul Trouble

Ideally, games won’t be officiated like this going forward, since there’s not really a way to explain Illinois ending a Big Ten basketball game having only committed nine fouls. Underwood’s best stab at defending Trayce was to put the literal biggest man he could find on him for a wrestling match, which somehow only resulted in 3 fouls against Dainja.

Oh yeah, and Xavier Johnson somehow got a technical from the bench. A stark contrast to the no call when Fran McCaffery stormed across the court (with one technical already!) and had to be restrained by three referees.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, so we will probably see more of this nonsense, - perhaps in the near future. Indiana will have to face the fact that it could, on any given night, be without a point guard due to foul trouble.

Jalen Hood-Schifino’s three early fouls tonight were the first time we’ve run into this issue, but boy was it an issue. For how important Tamar Bates and Trey Galloway have been at times, neither of them are point guards, and the offense struggled with Hood-Schifino on the bench.

To whatever extent possible considering the state of officiating in the conference, Hood-Schifino needs to try to stay out of trouble. He’s the biggest of Indiana’s healthy guards, but maybe Woodson would consider hiding him against a shooting guard who doesn’t see as many touches as a primary ball handler.

It ended up not sinking the Hoosiers tonight, so there’s no need to panic yet. Let’s just hope we can get Xavier Johnson back soon.