Indiana’s defense is ahead of its offense.
It is something Mike Woodson has been saying for months to anyone who would listen.
As he expected, that IU defense led Woodson’s team to a 68-62 season-opening win over Eastern Michigan in Bloomington on Tuesday night, his first win as the Hoosiers’ head coach.
Probably not even Woodson thought the defense would be as strong as it was in the first half at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers held Eastern Michigan to just 22.6 percent shooting from the field before the break and just seven field goals to go with eight turnovers by the Eagles.
On the first possession Indiana set the tone as they managed to deflect a couple of passes before forcing a shot clock violation. Eastern Michigan didn’t find the bottom of the net until nearly eight minutes into the game.
“I like the way we started the ball game based on our defense because, you know, I keep saying if we can build a defensive foundation here, you know we’ll be in every ballgame and give ourselves a chance to win.” Woodson said about the defensive intensity to open the game.
There were multiple facets to Indiana’s defensive effort — a strong presence on the ball including at times full court, active hands, and aggressive help-side support.
The Hoosiers had six blocks and three steals on the night, and at times, the swarming defense led to opportunities going the other way.
On one sequence in the second half Trayce Jackson-Davis swatted a shot off the backboard, landed out-of-bounds behind all of the other nine players on the court, and sprinted past every single one of them to receive an ally-oop from Xavier Johnson on the other end.
“Those are called energy plays,” Jackson-Davis said of the play. “Especially when you’re at home just getting a block and then seeing X (Xavier Johnson) run, and I know he’s going to throw it up to me if I get open.”
Seemingly out of nowhere however, many of those energy plays disappeared..
And that allowed Eastern Michigan to post 43 second half points after scoring just 19 before the break. Coupled with Indiana’s struggling offense, EMU was able to cut a 21-point lead to one in a span of less than 12 minutes.
A big part of the Eagles’ comeback bid was led Noah Farrakhan. The freshman scored 18 points in the second half after starting the game 0-of-13 from the field and going scoreless in the first. He made three second half 3-pointers, and as a team EMU made six from beyond the arc.
“I thought our switching was pretty good for the most part, but you still got to challenge shots, and I thought they pulled the trigger on a few of our switches where we just didn’t contest hard enough,” said Woodson. “I thought we got soft.”
Eventually, the defense would recover enough to come through in the end. They forced a turnover and benefited from an illegal screen in the final 3:07.
It was by no means a perfect effort, but overall IU held the Eagles to a 31.3 percent night from the field and forced 13 turnovers. There were enough positives that Woodson was willing to chalk it up to a learning experience.
“We were comfortable, put it that way, with the lead,” he said. “And then it changed drastically.
“These are just things we’ve got to learn from. And it’s my job to make sure that we learn from them. When we’re in that situation again, maybe we can just push it a little bit higher than the 20.”
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