For just the second time this season, Indiana came back from a half time deficit to win a conference game, hitting the ten win mark in Big Ten play for the first time since 2016. Illinois was short-handed, missing its leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr., but put up a good fight behind a 24 point day from Matthew Mayer.
As has been the case for the last three games now, Indiana trailed for the majority of the game and struggled to get over the hump and pull away when it strung together some nice defensive possessions. Jalen Hood-Schifino’s shooting slump continued, which led to extended scoring droughts for an Indiana team that’s become reliant on him as the secondary scorer.
Illinois also changed up its defensive strategy on Trayce Jackson-Davis, which led to more perimeter opportunities that Indiana was not hitting in the first half. Trayce still got his 26 points, but it took solid performances from Race Thompson and Miller Kopp for the Hoosiers to eke out a close win against the Illini.
With the win, the Hoosiers stand alone in third place in the conference, a half game behind the second place Wildcats and two games behind the struggling Boilermakers. It hasn’t gone exactly as planned, but Indiana is in contention for the conference title it was projected to win in the preseason.
Here’s Three Things:
Over the last three games, it’s become clearer that Indiana’s floor is much lower with Xavier Johnson on the bench. As Jalen Hood-Schifino has gone through the struggles of a freshman season in the Big Ten, the lack of an experienced ball handler has really put the Hoosiers in a tough spot offensively.
Even in his best games, Fino loves the long 2-pointer. It’s a horribly inefficient shot, and he’s prone to passing up a lightly contested 3-pointer for an open 2-pointer just inside the arc.
Because he’s become such a feature in Indiana’s offensive game plan, it’s hard to blame him for trying to singlehandedly bring the Hoosiers back in the game when Illinois went ahead. At the same time, he was passing up open teammates on the perimeter to take contested floaters, and committed five turnovers versus just three assists on the game.
It’s impressive that Indiana’s gotten to 10-6 without Xavier Johnson, but it’s also easy to see that this group could easily be 12-4 or 13-3 if it had a steadier hand in the backcourt when Hood-Schifino isn’t playing well. Indiana’s potential to put together a Big Ten or NCAA tournament run likely depends on when Johnson comes back and what the Hoosiers can expect from somebody coming off a foot surgery.
Until he’s back, it’s going to be hard to predict what Indiana’s ceiling is, or even which version of the offense will show up on a given night. This isn’t a knock on Hood-Schifino, who has played himself into first round status, but the reality of letting an 18 year-old run your offense in the Big Ten.
The Hoosiers finally got the production they needed from Race Thompson and Miller Kopp tonight, who have had their shares of ups and downs so far this season. Kopp followed up his 3 point night in Evanston with 12 today in Assembly Hall, while Race added a tough 10 points in the paint, playing well off of Trayce.
Simply put, these kinds of games are the exact reason Mike Woodson gives these two such a long leash to play through their struggles. Kopp had one of his worst shooting nights of the season at Northwestern, but remains Indiana’s most reliable 3-point threat and bounced back with a 4-5 night from deep today in 31 minutes of playing time.
Similarly, Race was able to dominate in the paint against an Illinois front court that was undersized with Dain Dainja on the bench. Reneau and Geronimo have each flashed potential at the four spot, but at the end of the day, Race has four seasons of experience in the league and three alongside Trayce Jackson-Davis.
As I said in the pregame, Indiana was going to need to find some secondary scoring outside of Trayce and Jalen. Today, with Bates and Galloway struggling, it was the Hoosiers senior forwards who stepped up to beat the Illini.
Well, it’s official. Trayce has now surpassed his head coach as the fifth leading scorer in program history, tallying 26 points and adding five blocks to his program-leading resume.
Statistically speaking, he’s closing the gap on the NPOY race with Zach Edey, which feels secondary to the way he’s carried this Indiana team on his back through the low points of the season. At this point, there’s no sign of him slowing down either.
Over the last 13 games, he’s only played fewer than 35 minutes three times, logging a full 40 minutes twice in that span. He’s been the focal point of opposing defenses since the season began, yet has still managed to log career-highs in points, assists, and rebounds.
So long as Trayce continues to play at this level, Indiana will likely be at least competitive in every game, regardless of the help he gets around him. Nobody in the conference has figured out how to shut him down as a scorer while his development as a passer makes him a threat to any coach who over commits to stopping him in the paint.
No matter how badly Indiana has played this year, Trayce has been a must-see player and appears dead set on cementing his legacy as one of the all time greats at Indiana.