The game was never in question as the Hoosiers cruised to a 70-35 win over Jackson St., but it wasn’t all peaches and cream for the Hoosiers either.
On Sunday, they held a Louisiana team, with high expectations in the Sun Belt conference, to 19.2 percent from the field, which marked the lowest opponent percentage since at least 1996-97. For a while it looked like Jackson State would go even lower.
With about five minutes to play, Jackson St. was on pace to end the game with a 16.7 field goal percentage. However, they went on a 9-0 run and made 4-of their last-7 shots in the closing minutes. This pushed their field goal percentage to 20.7 percent. But it didn’t change the bigger picture.
Indiana’s defense has quickly become the identity of the Hoosiers.
Before the game, IU led the NCAA in field-goal percentage defense with 30.29 percent. That number fell to 28.4 percent after the defensive showing that Indiana had tonight.
“I mentioned it to these guys early on when we first started as a team we had to establish some kind of identity, and it had to start on the defensive end,” said head coach Mike Woodson after the game.
“They’ve held true to that so far this season, and, man, it’s got us wins, it’s got us — kept us in games, it’s pushed us out above teams in games.”
The Hoosiers also ranked tied for tenth in the nation in blocks with seven per game. They had eight tonight. Trayce Jackson-Davis led the way with four blocks including one where he elevated to pin the ball off of the backboard. Last season, he only averaged 1.4 blocks per game. This season, he has stepped it up to 3.6 per contest.
Race Thompson and Michael Durr also contributed to the block party with one apiece. The trio, along with Jordan Geronimo, has the length to give opponents fits inside the paint.
“It’s nice, you know, for everybody in the perimeter knowing those two guys are back there just protecting the paint, protecting the rim. Every shot is pretty much contested, and it’s hard to get lay-ups and make lay-ups against those two guys,” Miller Kopp said of the interior defense.
Woodson couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for the defense his team is playing after holding Jackson State to 35 points on the night.
“I like everything about how we’re defending, man,” he said. “I mean, we’re getting after it.”
Yet, despite the dominant showing from the defense, the offense leaves more to be desired.
The first offensive possession started with a turnover as Parker Stewart attempted to throw a lob to Jackson-Davis that landed out of bounds. After throwing the ball away 27 times last game, it wasn’t the start anyone was looking for.
Through the first half, they turned the ball over eight times. It seemed it would be another sloppy second half that consisted of many Hoosier turnovers. And that would have consequences.
“You know, I was shaking at halftime,” Woodson said, referencing how everyone from the players, coaches to the managers have to run if the team commits more than 12 turnovers in a game.
Woodson is safe this time. His team managed to only turn the ball over three times in the second half to keep the total to 11.
The majority of turnovers came on the fast break, but the half-court offense was not effective either at times. As Jackson St. implemented a zone, players became stagnant and unsure of what to do. The Hoosiers had a five-minute scoring drought, but after some adjustments, they managed to find the soft spots of the zone and make shots.
Still, Woodson knows he has to put his players in the right position to make more plays and win games.
“We got to get our offense up to speed. We’re not — you’re averaging 70 some points a game; that’s not all bad,” Woodson said. “But I want our offense to be a lot more easier than it is right now, and we’re not there yet.”
After the season opener, the team’s perimeter shooting seemed to be a primary problem again. The Hoosiers made just 4-of-24 threes against Eastern Michigan. But since they’ve made 30-of-75 (40 percent). Miller Kopp, a 36 percent career 3-point shooter, and Parker Stewart, a 37 percent shooter, were struggling early as well. But the team, and the duo, have started to find their stroke, which helped aid the offense tonight.
Stewart has been the primary reason for the three-point shooting improvement. He is 7-of-10 over the last two games and shooting with confidence. Kopp has made 5-of-12 over the last three games and he has looked more comfortable playing with the team.
The “long ball” is an essential part of Woodson’s offensive scheme, and he likes the trend, even though there is still work to be done.
“I think we’re starting the shoot the ball a little bit better,” Woodson said.
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