Indiana avenged its late January loss to Maryland with a ten-point victory in the United Center last night, advancing to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament for the second consecutive year. The win should help Indiana lock in a four seed in the national tournament, bringing Indiana to 22-10 on the year.
After trailing in the first half, Indiana’s defense clamped down for the second 20 minutes, allowing just 26 points in the second half to erase the two-point halftime deficit. The Hoosiers limited Jahmir Young to 12 points on just 2-10 from the field, locking down the paint with a season-high eight blocks as a team.
The win earned Indiana a rematch with a red-hot Nittany Lions team who held off Northwestern in overtime for its four straight win on the bubble. Penn State is probably solidly in, but probably needs the win more than Indiana to feel good ahead of Selection Sunday.
Here’s Three Things:
Trayce did it all for Indiana again last night, recording 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and three steals. All but the rebounds were team-highs.
Perhaps motivated by Zach Edey winning conference player of the year earlier this week, Trayce went out and played like the best player in the Big Ten, continuing to highlight his versatility, even as the focal point of opposing defenses. Last night marked the fourth straight conference game where Trayce has scored 20 or more points.
Unlike other games when it takes him a minute to adjust to whatever the defense is giving him, Trayce came out ready for the extra attention and recorded two assists in the opening ten minutes. He was also extremely efficient in his scoring, going 8-13 from the field and helping the Hoosiers shoot over 50% from the floor on the night.
Trayce doesn’t really have anything left to prove in his Indiana career, but it’s obvious that he’s trying to bring his team to heights it hasn’t seen in years, maybe since Mike Woodson was a player. His dominant streak arguably started with Indiana’s season on the line in last year’s Big Ten tournament and is a big part of the reason Indiana fans won’t be sweating it out on the bubble this year.
Indiana will go as far as Trayce can take them, and right now he looks determined to keep playing well into the national tournament.
Mike Woodson got some crucial minutes from the bench last night, led by Malik Reneau, who had eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds in his 21 minutes last night. In that time, he also managed to commit just one foul.
Tamar Bates’ five points may not jump off the page, but his 3-point field goal was his first make from deep since January 11 at Penn State. Bates also committed 0 turnovers, a significant stat in 18 minutes at the guard spot.
Indiana got 13 points from its bench while the Terrapins got just six, helping to offset quiet offensive performances from Trey Galloway and Race Thompson. We also saw Jordan Geronimo for a brief stint, which should be a good sign about his health going forward.
At the end of the day, Indiana is still going to live and die by Trayce and Jalen Hood-Schifino, especially with Xavier Johnson done for the year. Still, the more guys like Reneau and Bates heat up, the less teams will be able to key on Indiana’s stars defensively.
A New Age
We’ve said it on the blog a million times in a million different ways, but Mike Woodson’s tournament success marks a definitive shift in program identity over the prior two coaching staffs. Before last night, Indiana had lost three straight games as the three seed in the conference tournament.
As mentioned above, this is also the second straight season when Indiana will be playing in the Big Ten semifinals. The last time it got a double-bye in 2016, it promptly lost the Friday matchup to Michigan.
Indiana has more talent from top to bottom, more mental toughness, and an edge that it has largely missed over the last ten years or so. Whether it can beat Penn State tonight or not, this is no longer the program that’s an easy-out in the Big Ten Tournament.