Everyone knows that this has been a long time coming.
His teammates at the podium lit up when Indiana’s sports information director told the media that Race Thompson had a career high ten points on Thursday night against Iowa.
Young and old, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Devonte Green smiled ear-to-ear when they heard the news.
“Yes sir!” Green approved enthusiastically.
They even made the normally stoic and steady Thompson grin a little.
“He comes in and does his job and he does it at a high level,” Jackson-Davis said of Thompson. “We need him to win, we really do.”
Wait. What? Indiana needs a guy who is averaging 11.5 minutes and 3.2 point per game to win?
Jackson-Davis is on to something.
After Indiana’s win over Michigan State a few weeks ago, head coach Archie Miller could not have been more effusive in his praise for Thompson’s effort.
“I thought Race Thompson was unbelievably good in the game,” Miller said at the time. “He played his tail off on both ends of the floor — his best game as a collegiate player.”
That was the good news.
But just before halftime of that win over the Spartans, the redshirt sophomore Thompson was injured after a hard fall to the floor — and he didn’t return for three games. Indiana lost all three plus a fourth against Purdue after which Miller admitted that Thompson still wasn’t right.
With Thompson unable to return, stepping up in the final seconds to put the game away with two clutch free throws against Michigan State was redshirt freshman forward Jerome Hunter.
Hunter missed the entire 2018-19 season with a lower leg condition that required surgery. Thompson took a redshirt during the 2017-18 season and also missed almost all of last season after suffering a severe concussion during practice.
When it came to Hunter and Thompson this season, it was difficult to know what to expect.
While both players are still finding their way at the high major level of college basketball, it is becoming clear that these are two guys who could change the outlook for the remainder of this season — and quite frankly the outlook for the program — if they continue on their upward trajectory.
Hunter and Thompson were the first two recruits that Miller landed as the head coach of Indiana when they committed within a day of one another in July of 2017,
It is easy to forget that they were expected to be major contributors at this point in their careers.
Instead, both players are only just now hitting their stride.
After a miserable start shooting the basketball this season, Hunter has been on a roll of late.
In his last six games the Ohio native has shot 10-of-21 from behind the arc (47.6 percent) after a 4-for-28 (14.2 percent) start to the season.
For a team that has sorely lacked an ability to knock down perimeter shots, Hunter has been a bright spot recently — and someone who defenses have to respect rather than sagging into the paint.
“Now he’s playing, and he’s playing more and more, which is a big thing for our team,” Miller said of Hunter’s recent emergence. “He’s added value in a lot of ways. He’s doing a better job defensively. He can add some offensive firepower.”
Indiana was without both Hunter and Thompson on the road against Penn State. The Hoosiers’ 49 points in that contest was their lowest scoring output of the season. “It crushed our depth,” Miller said of missing both forwards after the loss to the Nittany Lions.
Similar to Hunter, Thompson brings qualities to the Indiana rotation that have been sorely lacking.
Highlighted by his four steals on Thursday against Iowa, Thompson is aggressive and has a nose for the basketball. For a team that can at times lack toughness and energy, the Minnesota native brings both elements to the team.
“He does all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet and goes unnoticed but we notice it,” Green said of Thompson. “And we know he will help us win a game.”
But Thompson also produces on the stat sheet.
On a per-40 minute basis, Thompson averages 11.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 2.1 steals per contest while shooting 53.3 percent from the field.
Thompson has also shown that he has a sturdy enough frame to guard centers on the low block, and he can also step out and knock down the occasional three-pointer.
Able to do so many different things on the floor, Miller believes what Thompson brings to the team translates to the won/loss column.
“He’s at the right place at the right time,” Miller said of Thompson. “He’s about the right things and he’s a winning player. He helps you win. He makes winning plays.”
Perhaps more than anything else, Hunter and Thompson give Indiana a different look on the court.
The Hoosiers have their stable of guards on the perimeter and traditional forwards and centers manning the paint.
But sorely lacking has been a bit more versatility.
Hunter gives Indiana a true wing who can be a threat to score at all three levels while also able to defend multiple positions.
Thompson provides toughness while also bringing some unique skills on both ends of the floor.
Although Thompson has been with the program since August 2017, and Hunter June 2018, through no fault of their own Miller has gotten next to nothing from his first two recruiting wins.
That finally appears to be changing.
And while the timing of Hunter and Thompson’s emergence at IU was delayed, the time could be just right to play a major role in helping to guide the Hoosiers back to the NCAA Tournament.
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