WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As Indiana came down the stretch of its best win of the season and one of its biggest regular-season victories in years, it felt abnormally smooth.
This is an IU team that, with few exceptions, had become adept at making road games harder than necessary. And Saturday’s was far from just another away game. IU was playing its biggest rival at a deafeningly loud Mackey Arena. The Hoosiers hadn’t won here in 10 years. IU head coach Mike Woodson never won here as a player.
IU led Purdue by nine points with 10 minutes left in the game. The Boilermakers were the No. 5 team in the country, in a raucous home atmosphere, playing for a share of the Big Ten title. Aside from the Illinois game, Indiana just doesn’t win like this on the road.
A Purdue run felt inevitable. But the game got later, and later, and later, and the shoe just never dropped. The Boilermakers were unable to string stops and scores together. The only time they got within nine points after that 10-minute mark was on a 3-pointer at the very end, when the game was already decided. IU earned its first sweep of Purdue since 2013 with a 79-71 win.
“This is a big game,” Woodson said. “To come into this hostile environment and get a win, it just says a lot about our players.”
It’s all the more remarkable that Indiana (20-9, 11-7 Big Ten) won this game given that Trayce Jackson-Davis had his worst outing of the season. He made some big plays in the second half, but didn’t score in the first half, and finished with a season-low 10 points.
The senior had little room to operate for most of the game against Caleb Furst, who sometimes received help through a double-team, and Zach Edey lurking in the paint.
But Jackson-Davis having a down night didn’t matter because of Jalen Hood-Schifino.
The freshman completely dominated this game, with the National Player of the Year favorite on the other side. He actually got off to a rough start, with a turnover 12 seconds into the game, and he missed his first attempt both from the field and at the free-throw line. But, he said, once he hit his first shot — a layup just over four minutes in — he knew he had it rolling.
And Hood-Schifino just got sharper as the game went on. He has never looked more NBA-ready than he did on this night. He got to his spots in the mid-range seamlessly, even if it was quite difficult. And he just knocked down shots, whether they were open looks or contested, off-balance or steady.
Hood-Schifino racked up 23 points by halftime, which was critical, as IU’s offense had little else working in the first half. And he finished with a season-high 35 on a 14-for-24 clip. He’s the first Division I freshman in the last 25 years to score 35 points or more on the road against a top-five opponent.
Purdue (24-5, 13-5) just had no answers for Hood-Schifino. And Jackson-Davis knew it.
“I told him before the game even started, ‘You’re going to get your opportunities. Get them up. Score the ball,'” Jackson-Davis said. “Coach Woody was trying to give me baskets, and I told him, ‘Coach, not right now. We’re riding him right now.’ When a guy’s hot like that, you’ve just got to keep giving him the ball.”
Indiana got big moments from Trey Galloway and Miller Kopp as well. Galloway, particularly, was crucial in IU’s 17-4 run to open the second half, which broke the game open.
It wasn’t a flawless performance for the Hoosiers. But this team isn’t wired to turn in games like that. This group wins ugly.
And even in a game that felt strangely comfortable down the stretch, it still felt, at times, like IU had to grind it out. And, in a way, that made the win even sweeter for Jackson-Davis.
“This victory, probably, is the best victory that we’ve had,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “Just playing a complete 40 minutes, never wavered. Got down early, and fought back. We were down in the second half, and we just kept fighting and fighting and chugging along, and then we just kept building the lead, and then we just rode it out.”
Since its three-game losing streak to begin January, Indiana has gone 10-3. This team has warts, but some may view them as battle scars instead.
The Hoosiers have simply found ways to win ballgames.
Sure, their best player has had a few off-games. But IU’s other players are looking increasingly confident at the right time. Hood-Schifino played like a star in West Lafayette. Kopp is starting to shoot a higher volume of 3-pointers. Galloway looks like a player more sure of his role and his ability with every passing game. Players like Race Thompson are making plays in big moments even after mostly quiet nights.
For IU to win a game like this without Jackson-Davis in the driver’s seat speaks to this team’s ceiling and its potential as March approaches.
But with two weeks until Selection Sunday, there’s plenty of time for that perspective to continue taking shape. For IU, this win is worth reveling in on its own, without any big-picture implications clouding its significance.
Because on a night when so many things stacked against the Hoosiers, they rose to the occasion. Nights like these are precious.
The Hoosiers entered the most raucous atmosphere they’ve seen all year, and forced the vociferous Paint Crew roar to slowly fade out. It’s a game Jackson-Davis and his teammates will quickly move on from to prepare for their next game, but it’s a night they won’t soon forget.
“It shows the reason why I came back, to be in games like this,” Jackson-Davis said. “Throughout my four years here, we’ve had little games where we beat teams, like Purdue last year, which I wasn’t even really a part of because I was in foul trouble. But just to come back and sweep them this year, it just shows you that I made the right decision, and we’ve just got to keep building off of it.”
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