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Brilliance from Trayce Jackson-Davis leads IU to massive victory

Trayce Jackson-Davis has enjoyed many strong performances throughout his Indiana career. He’s put the Hoosiers on his back so many times. And he has a plethora of clutch moments on his highlight reel.

His outing on Thursday against Illinois might top them all.

The senior completely dominated the Fighting Illini at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois, leading the Hoosiers to a massive 80-65 win.

Indiana (12-6, 3-4 Big Ten) went to Jackson-Davis inside over and over again. And why not? Illinois (13-6, 4-4) was attempting to defend him straight-up, without going to double-teams like most IU opponents do. IU head coach Mike Woodson was expecting the Illini to go to that at some point, but they didn’t make the adjustment.

“I just kept milking it. Every timeout, I was saying that, ‘The double-team might be coming,’ so we were trying to set our offense accordingly. But it never came,” Woodson said. “So we rolled him. And he performed and produced tonight. Gave us what we needed.”

Jackson-Davis went beyond that. This was, perhaps, the finest game of his four seasons as a Hoosier.

He racked up 35 points, his most ever in Big Ten play and his second-most in any game. And he did that on a 15 for 19 line, his third-most efficient shooting clip in a Big Ten game. The All-American added nine rebounds, five assists, and three blocks.

Jackson-Davis, too, couldn’t believe the Illini didn’t double-team him. On the rare occasions when the defense collapsed on him, he alertly passed to an open outside shooter or found Jordan Geronimo or Malik Reneau inside.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me, honestly. Just making the right play,” Jackson-Davis said. “Tonight, they decided that they’re going to let me beat them. And so that’s what I had to do.”

The senior got just about anything he wanted against Illinois. He ran the floor a few times, scored from the high and low post, hit the Illini with straight line drives, and even drew a foul on a desperation 3-point attempt. Illinois sophomore forward Dain Dainja has shown promise in spots this season, but he was completely overwhelmed in this matchup.

And what separates this game by Jackson-Davis from his many other memorable nights was the circumstances. IU snapped its three-game losing streak by beating Wisconsin on Saturday, but still had a lot of work to do to get the season back on track. And road games have given the Hoosiers so much trouble over the last few seasons.

The last road game IU played before this went extremely poorly — the Hoosiers were run out of the gym at Penn State, in arguably their worst effort of the season. This win gives Indiana real momentum heading into another big game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against Michigan State, but a loss here could’ve sent things spiraling again. So for Jackson-Davis to come through in such a big way in such an important spot spoke volumes.

He was so good, Woodson was aiming to get him the ball on nearly every IU possession when he was on the floor.

“I rode him. 80 to 90 percent of the plays were geared to get him the ball. I would’ve been foolish not to do that until they actually stopped him,” Woodson said. “And they didn’t do that tonight.”

Jackson-Davis was battling back trouble for around a month, which kept him out of practice for several weeks. He fought through it valiantly in games, continuing to play big minutes when his team needed him most.

But he’s now, finally, getting healthier. And that was a big key to this performance.

“This week was the first time that I’ve actually practiced in about a month and a half. Just being able to get touches on the floor, being able to run up and down a little bit, just getting out there with my teammates was really big for me,” Jackson-Davis said. “In mid-December, I was probably playing at like 60 to 70 percent. And now I’m up to like 85, 90 percent. So I’m almost fully healthy. I’ve still got a little pain in my back. But it’s nothing that a painkiller can’t fix.”

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