In his third year in the program, redshirt sophomore Race Thompson was thought of as a rotational big man. However, two seasons later Thompson has developed into a essential role for the Hoosiers and has taken the place as a secondary scorer. He proved that once again in a 79-61 win over Northern Kentucky on Wednesday night in Bloomington,
In his second season on the floor and third at IU, the Plymouth, Minn. native averaged 3.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 13.6 minutes. Now, he averages 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while starting in all of the Hoosiers’ twelve games. He has also converted 17-of his-19 shots in the last three games and is up over 60 percent from the field on the season.
Aside from scoring, Thompson has managed to improve on all aspects of his game. On one fast break, the big man turned into a guard by taking a dribble then performing a euro step around the defender for the lay-in.
“I think the unique thing, I’m letting Race bring the ball up the court and make plays in that regard. I didn’t box him in a box when I got here,” head coach Mike Woodson said on Wednesday evening of Thompson’s newly developed skills. “You know, I tried to make everybody comfortable. He’s got to be that way because you’re going to get caught throughout the course of a ballgame where you’ve got to make a play with the basketball.
“And he’s comfortable in that area. And he’s comfortable in making plays, you know, around the rim. I mean, you saw that again tonight. So again, I can’t praise him enough.”
Tonight, the redshirt senior added 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting, four rebounds, and two blocks. Thompson did most of his work in the post, showcasing the array of moves he has learned through his career.
Midway through the second half, Thompson climbed the ladder for the offensive rebound. He was trapped on the baseline and utilized a ball fake to send a defender in the opposite direction. Then, he spun the baseline around the other Northern Kentucky player and slammed it home.
“He’s been so effective for us around the bucket, and the fact that we work on it in terms of delivering the ball down low to all our bigs because that’s where our strength as a team is,” Woodson said.
“I’m just happy for him man because he’s worked and like I said there was a lot of things people said he couldn’t do, and he’s defeating all the odds. He’s doing a lot of great things for our ball club, he really is.”
With Trayce Jackson-Davis–21 points, six rebounds, and four assists– taking the brunt of the scoring, fans might think that the two would not be able to co-exist in a packed paint, however, it’s quite the opposite. The two can to feed off each other and play ‘buddy ball,’ as coach Woodson calls it.
Early in the game, Thompson was trapped under the basket but was able to find a cutting Jackson-Davis for the easy left-handed bucket. Another time, the preseason All-American collected the ball in the paint and was immediately triple-teamed due to the Northern Kentucky matchup zone and swung a quick no-look pass to Thompson for the weak-side slam dunk.
Those were just a couple of the many times that the duo connected for a basket.
“I think me and him complement each other very well,” Jackson-Davis said of his chemistry with Thompson. “We seem to always know where we’re going to be on offense. And when the double teams come from his guy, I’m able to hit him and vice-versa.”
Thompson has taken huge strides since the beginning of his Hoosier career. But for the team to make the NCAA Tournament, they will need him to continue to do so. Because, in many ways, as he goes, so does the team.
“I think Race is someone that just he brings it every day. He’s the glue guy. He’s the glue of our team. He holds our team together,” Jackson-Davis said of his roommate and co-captain.
“And even last year, you saw a few games where he was just on the boards relentless and I think this year he’s just doing more of that. He’s just trying to attack the glass and just be more a complete player honestly.”
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