Down two seniors in Joey Brunk and Al Durham, Indiana was going to need a big game from their big man.
They got it.
IU controlled the game from the opening tip in Asheville, forcing a good Stanford team to play IU’s game: inside-out. For Indiana to win games against quality opponents like the Cardinal, the Hoosiers have to play through their frontcourt.
And time and time again Wednesday, Indiana went to its low post star — Trayce Jackson-Davis.
After Tuesday’s disappointing showing from Jackson-Davis, the preseason all-Big Ten selection showed why he is a projected top-50 pick in next year’s NBA draft, throwing down a sledgehammer of a dunk, attacking the basket with reckless abandon and perhaps most important, making 11-of-14 from the line.
Jackson-Davis’ play got Indiana through their dry spells on the offensive end, and he finished with a career high 31 points to go along with 6 boards.
“Today, was the first game I really had fun, got to play with joy, energy and passion,” Jackson-Davis said.
While he was no doubt the center of the Stanford game plan coming in, the Cardinal had no answers.
“His ability to impose his physical will on us really stood out,” Stanford head coach Jerod Haase said about Jackson-Davis. “He’s just a physical specimen, and over the course of the game we were not able to stop him.”
We’ve been able to see dominant games from this frontcourt already this season. In the season opener, it was Jackson-Davis who took the lead. Against Providence, Race Thompson stepped up. But in Wednesday’s victory over Stanford, both members of the dynamic front court duo came to play, as Thompson added 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
When a team suffers the kind of loss like Indiana did to Texas on Tuesday, it is easy to give up. Playing for third is not something this team wanted when they arrived in Asheville, and with the loss of Durham, it would have shocked no one if Indiana mailed it in against the Cardinal on Wednesday.
Instead, we witnessed Indiana’s most locked-in defensive effort of the season, led by Thomspon and Armaan Franklin. It was Franklin who was took on assignment of Stanford’s Ziaire Williams, holding the projected NBA Draft top-ten pick to four points on 1-of-10 shooting and fouling him out. It was Thompson, who, despite a size disadvantage, controlled the paint against a talented Cardinal frontcourt.
Even freshman guard Khristian Lander, who has at times looked lost, recorded three blocked shots and played solid defense.
As the Hoosiers leave Asheville, this group remains difficult to read.
The past three days Hoosier Nation has felt collectively like a moody teenager, experiencing wild emotional swings in a very short amount of time. A blowout win over what we think is a solid Providence group? Euphoria. A blowout loss in what we thought would be a close game against Texas? Complete despair.
Perhaps the operative word here is “think.”
The reality is that this is still an extremely young college basketball season. Providence very well could be headed for a down year. Maybe Maui champion Texas really is that good. After three days Indiana’s season outlook still remains murky, but one thing is for certain: it is very difficult to question the team’s effort level after this performance against Stanford.
And a good locker-room appears to be the reason why Indiana was able to play so well just 24 hours after an ugly performance against Texas.
“We have a no-maintenance group,” Miller said after the game. “We have a high character group that likes one another.”
Some IU teams in the past may have quit in a meaningless consolation game without their second best offensive player. Instead, this group responded in a big way and provided hope that at the very least, they will not be a pushover. After three days of high highs and low lows, we can take solace in that.
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