March can be fickle.
Up by six with under four minutes to play, the Hoosiers seemed to be in prime position to play in their first Big Ten Tournament final since 2001.
But the Hawkeyes answered with an and-1 and back-to-back three-pointers to regain the lead. Still, the Hoosiers clawed back to tie up the game after a press led to a turnover and a Xavier Johnson basket.
Indiana just needed one defensive stop to get to overtime. They executed perfectly and broke down Iowa’s original game plan.
Then March kicked in at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Jordan Bohannon jacked up a desperation 3-pointer from 35-feet with just seconds remaining.
The ball hit glass first — and the banks were open.
And that meant another heartbreaking late-game loss for the Hoosiers.
“I saw the shot clock and then I saw he was pretty well defended and he was almost like probably four, five feet away from half court, so I knew he was going to hoist one up. And then as the ball — I saw — I thought it was going to be long and then it banked in and sometimes that’s what happens It’s March, so obviously March Madness,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said of the final play.
The Hoosiers would not have been in that situation if it wasn’t for the play of their big man. After a Johnson three to start the game, Jackson-Davis recorded five consecutive baskets, leading the Hoosiers to a 15-3 run to start the game. In the first half alone the second-team All-Big Ten forward scored 16 points, but would not stop there.
The Greenwood, Ind. native–which is down the road from Indianapolis–scored 15 points in the second half for a 31-point, 10-rebound performance. On one occasion, he showcased his unique athleticism when Johnson flipped up a pass, that seemed it would’ve hit the top of the backboard if it wasn’t for the tremendous leap and grab by Jackson-Davis for an alley-oop.
Johnson, who himself had a great game with 20 points and nine assists, connected with the big man on eight occasions. Their pick-and-roll game was unstoppable.
“Me and him (Johnson) just talked about it, we talked to Coach, trying to get more ball screen oriented. He’s a great player, especially when he gets downhill, he’s going to make the right reads. And playing with him, I love playing with him, that’s my guy,” said Jackson-Davis.
However, aside from the duo and Race Thompson who had 11 points and seven boards, the rest of the lineup struggled to make an impact offensively. Due to the Hawkeyes double-teaming Jackson-Davis, many players received open looks, but could not convert.
Outside of the trio, the team shot just 5-of-24 from the field. Starters Miller Kopp and Parker Stewart shot a combined 2-of-9. Kopp started 0-of-7 from the field before hitting two crucial second-half three-pointers.
The team as a whole shot just 5-of-19 for 26.3 percent from deep. Iowa shot 14-of-32 for 43.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Indiana felt it was getting the shots it wanted out of its offense.
“Guys, we’ve had a lot of good looks from the perimeter. There were a lot of wide open looks tonight, we just didn’t make them and that’s a part of basketball,” said head coach Mike Woodson.
“I mean, I got to keep positioning our guys. When Trayce is being double teamed, our guys have got to step up and make shots. I thought Iowa made shots when they had open looks and we struggled to make them tonight in that area.”
On the other end, the Hawkeyes had an equally impressive player on their squad. Keegan Murray– who finished fourth in scoring nationally with 23.9 points per game– killed the Hoosiers time and time again.
He was too fast for the frontcourt and too big for the perimeter defenders of IU. Murray ended the game with 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting with eight three-pointers. He was able to utilize off-ball screens to receive many open looks. But, even if he was contested, it didn’t seem to matter.
“He’s the real deal,” Woodson said of Murray.
“No, he’s a load. I mean, there’s just nothing he can’t do with the basketball in his hand. He’s a pretty good defender and he rebounds the ball in terms of his height and length, so I mean, I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he’s going to be just fine and a good NBA team is going to really love him. He’s played well.”
Now it’s wait and see.
Needing two wins to cement themselves in the Big Dance, the Hoosiers accomplished what they needed to by defeating Michigan and Illinois. Then they gave Iowa all they could handle.
Now, the Hoosiers will anxiously await their name to be called on Selection Sunday.
But one thing is for sure, This is a team with a major chip on their shoulder.
“Well, like they said in the locker room, I don’t think anyone wants to see us right now. I think we’ve proven not only to the Big Ten but to the country that we’re also a team, a top team that can compete with anyone,” said Jackson-Davis.
“So, it took the last-second three to beat us to the hottest team in the Big Ten right now and it stings, but at the same time I feel like we’ve got a lot of ball left.”
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