It is too soon to talk about must wins, but a home loss to Nebraska to open Big Ten play would have caused a minor panic within Hoosier Nation.
Ten minutes in on Saturday, some had at least a corner of an eye on the panic button as the Hoosiers fell behind 16-6 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. But a strong first half bench effort got IU rolling towards a 68-55 win in Bloomington.
Let’s take a deeper look at how the Hoosiers secured their first Big Ten win of the year with another edition of The Report Card.
IU (7-1, 1-0) will travel to Wisconsin for a 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday evening in Madison.
What do you want to focus on, the six points in the first 10 minutes, or the 60 in the final 30? Let’s average it out and look at it this way — the Hoosiers scored just .94 points per possession, their second worst effort of the season. They made a season-low 40.4 percent of their shots against an improved but not particularly strong Nebraska defense. And above all, IU had 11 first half turnovers including seven in the first 10 minutes.
“Well, all we can do is talk about it, man, and show them on film that, you know, you play offense, you don’t give it to the defense,” head coach Mike Woodson said of the early turnover troubles. “You know, you play offense to score the ball, and have fun while you’re doing it. I thought we were a little bit better the second half. And in doing that, we were able to build a lead and by not turning it over and making our defense work for us and making shots, it kind of all goes hand-in-hand.”
The Hoosiers had just eight turnovers over the last 30 minutes including just four in the second half. They shot better in the second half too, making 44.4 percent from the field overall including 40 percent from behind the arc.
Woodson believes Race Thompson is athletic enough to win the mismatches when teams decide to use a more wing oriented player a the four.
“They were playing small ball so we tried to take advantage of that by posting him against a smaller guy, and he made a couple buckets,” Woodson said. “That’s something that we will explore as we continue this journey if teams are going to play our fours with smaller people. I mean, you’ve got to exploit it.”
The Hoosiers made 8-of-22 threes for 36.4 percent, which was their lowest mark in five games but still an acceptable number. Their season 3-point rate of 37.4 percent is good for 52nd nationally. IU also made 14-of-17 (82.4 percent) from the free throw line, and they’ve made 73.7 percent or better each of the last three games.
Indiana gave up just 39 points over the final 30 minutes to a team that came in averaging 80 per contest. For the game IU gave up just .76 points per possession, their best this season against a high major foe and their best against a Big Ten team since the 2018-19 season.
The Cornhuskers had just nine assists on their 23 field goals, made just 37.7 percent of their shots, and turned it over 14 times.
“I’m a true believer, man, that if your defense is solid, it will keep you in ballgames,” Woodson said. “If you’re defending and rebounding as a unit, you’ve got a chance.
“I think our strength of the team right now is defense. So I think we just talked to each other about slowing down offense and then helping our defense, making our defense make plays for us on offense. So I think stepping up our defense, talking to each other, getting each other going, I think that’s really what helped us coming into the second half.”
Nebraska also had only five offensive rebounds on the game and just nine fast break points despite a strong preference to play downhill. The Hoosiers also had seven steals and five blocks as Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to be an effective rim protector.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score, keys to the game and specialty stats
- Woodson, Bates and Thompson post-game
- IU’s bench delivers against Nebraska
Trayce Jackson-Davis (B-) He missed some shots he normally makes, had just seven rebounds in 35 minutes, and committed four turnovers. But Jackson-Davis had four blocks and three steals, and his mere presence creates opportunities for others.
Race Thompson (A) After committing a bunch of turnovers at Syracuse, Thompson had none on the day. He had his sixth career double-double and this was Thompson’s third straight game reaching double digits on the boards. His physicality and toughness really pulls a lot of things together for IU.
Miller Kopp (D) Kopp gathered himself as the game progressed, but he had several early turnovers and was held scoreless just a few days after posting a career-high 28. On the other end Kopp was in some tough matchups but held up relatively well.
Parker Stewart (B) Stewart isn’t highly versatile, but he is doing exactly what IU needs him to do — making threes. “He’s giving us some positive minutes and doing what he does best, and that’s making the long ball,” Woodson said. He has IU’s most makes, attempts and best conversion rate at 47.7 percent from behind the arc.
Xavier Johnson (C+) Johnson’s struggles with fouling have become the norm. He wasn’t efficient offensively, but he took care of the ball and rebounded at a high rate. Johnson also made 6-of-6 at the line late in the game to eliminate any thoughts of a late Nebraska run.
Tamar Bates (A-) Indiana was at their best with Bates on the floor on Saturday, as he delivered a career-high 13 points. He helped IU push the tempo, and he proves to be a better defensive tool against smaller, quicker opponents like Nebraska. He is now shooting 36 percent from three on the season after a 3-of-7 performance from long range.
Jordan Geronimo (B) It was improved effort after a brutal night in Syracuse. Geronimo needs to be a force on the glass and he had two rebounds in five minutes, including an offensive snare he put back for a bucket.
Michael Durr (B) Durr didn’t play much, just three minutes, but he delivered a basket on a post-move and two rebounds during what was part of IU’s better runs in the game.
Rob Phinisee (B) Still not 100 percent from a calf injury, Phinisee flashed at times with a three-pointer and a crafty left-handed finish at the rim. He still needs to be more efficient offensively, but the senior guard added four rebounds, three assists and a steal as he took on an extended role with Johnson in foul trouble.
Anthony Leal (A) Leal’s nine minutes gave IU a big boost with a three, two assists that should have been three if not for a Bates drop of a breakaway pass, and a steal. He pushed the pace and also brought toughness and physicality on the defensive end.
Trey Galloway was out with a wrist injury.
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