Right on the heels of Purdue’s historic loss to a 16 seed, Indiana took the court and took care of business against a scrappy Kent State team, beating the Golden Flashes 71-60. The win is Indiana’s first in the round of 68 since 2016.
Kent State kept it to a one possession game until the end of the first half, when Indiana’s defense locked in and held the Golden Flashes to just two field goals over the final five minutes of the half. Indiana was able to maintain a comfortable lead for most of the second half, rarely letting its lead slip under 10 points over the last 20 minutes.
As expected, the Hoosiers dominated inside, led by Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, who both looked like they wanted to prolong their college careers a few more games. Race was even feeling it from 3-point range, going 2-3 from deep to bury Rob Senderoff on the first leg of the Indiana revenge tour.
Here’s Three Things:
There’s really only so much you can say at this point, so I am instead providing some video of the way Trayce played last night and the mission he is very clearly on right now.
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS WITH THE POSTER @IndianaMBB pic.twitter.com/UcMUbNzqc2— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 18, 2023
Trayce. Jackson. Davis.— Lukas Weese (@Weesesports) March 18, 2023
That’s the Tweet. #iubb | #MarchMadness
Trayce looked like the best player in college basketball last night, finishing with a ridiculous 24 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five blocks. He’s the first player in the history of the sport to record 20 points, 10 boards, five assists and five blocks in an NCAA Tournament game.
He was the best player on both ends of the floor and did a little bit of everything for Indiana, at times running the offense or creating fast breaks with his rebounds and outlet passes. His passing and ball handling were a huge reason why Indiana didn’t fall behind when Jalen Hood-Schifino sat for foul trouble.
In the pregame article, I wrote that Indiana’s backcourt would have its easiest offensive assignment of the season, only needing to get the ball inside to Trayce and letting him do the rest. I was mostly right, but even that was understating how easy he made it on Indiana’s young backcourt, with Trayce often taking the ball up top or out on the wing, eliminating the need for an entry pass.
He’s looking more and more like a bonafide NBA player every game, but is also playing on a level that shows he still feels like he has something to prove at Indiana. With the way the bracket has played out so far, he might be able to have a historic end to his historic career at Indiana.
The Other Seniors
Had it not been for Trayce’s unbelievable night, the obvious story would have been Race Thompson’s 20 points and nine rebounds, which included some dunks I frankly did not know he was capable of. Ever since the Penn State game, Race has been playing with a little more bounce and energy, perhaps a sign of continued recovery from his knee injury earlier this year.
His newly headband-ed teammate Miller Kopp also had a strong performance with 13 points on 3-6 3-point shooting. The two seniors were the only Hoosiers to hit from deep on a night when the backcourt predictably struggled against an experienced Kent State defense.
In 29 and 36 minutes respectively, Race and Miller also committed just one turnover, combined, against a team that had the 20th best steal rate in the country. Their poise and energy were instrumental in stopping any momentum the Golden Flashes got over the course of the game and allowed Woodson to bench Jalen Hood-Schifino for long stretches of foul trouble.
Indiana is going to continue to need this leadership as it runs into another good backcourt in Miami tomorrow night. These seniors have already done so much to change the culture of the program and now have a chance to make a truly special run with basically every high seed in the bracket looking extremely mortal in the opening round.
At this point, it seems possible that I never stop laughing at Purdue’s historic loss to Fairleigh Dickinson yesterday. The fact that I had to google how to spell the name of the school for this blog made me start laughing all over again.
There are basically infinite statistics or numbers that make the loss even funnier than it sounds, but I think my favorite is the fact that Fairleigh Dickinson didn’t even win its conference - they were only in because of an NCAA rule that prevented Merrimack from getting a bid. Also all of the Purdue fans tweeting about how dumb Tobin Anderson was for giving them bulletin board material earlier this week. It’s just too good.
On a somewhat serious note, I think it’s worth mentioning that Mike Woodson and his staff were basically the ones to crack the code against this Purdue group with its February 4 victory over the Boilermakers in Bloomington. Purdue had only lost one game at that point, but went on to lose three of its next five, including the Indiana rematch in Mackey Arena.
This isn’t a knock on Matt Painter, who put together a pretty solid regular season despite some very obvious talent limitations with his roster. Instead, it’s a testament to the way this staff can scout and prepare for high-level opponents.
Indiana is going up against a Third Team All American in Isaiah Wong and Miami tomorrow, but I have full faith in this staff’s ability to game plan around it and hide its own weaknesses like it did last night against Kent State.
You wouldn’t think Indiana could survive a night when Jalen Hood-Schifino shot 4-11 from the field as part of a 10 point performance from the three back court players, combined. And yet that hardly made a difference in how Indiana was able to control its opening game against Kent State, who finishes the season about 200 spots better than Fairleigh Dickinson in Kenpom.
The Hoosiers have a player of the year contender, a group of determined, poised seniors, and a staff that’s been able to get the best out of its roster for most of the season now. Things can get crazy in March, but I like where Indiana is right now.