Trayce Jackson-Davis backed Nate Reuvers in from the right wing to the paint, faked right, went left, swished a left-handed hook and all in one motion turned to the Indiana bench and pounded his chest with his right hand.
He was facing away from the FoxSports1 cameras at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center so it wasn’t possible to read his lips on the broadcast, but the message was obvious. The sophomore preseason All-American big man wanted his teammates to get him the ball, and for a while they did.
From the time he made that hook with 10:49 to go in the second half until a ferocious dunk off a lob from junior point guard Rob Phinisee with 6:47 to play, Jackson-Davis scored 10 points including eight straight at one point, helping Indiana to a six-point lead.
But from that point forward through two overtimes, Jackson-Davis scored just one point and didn’t manage a single field goal even though he never came out in that 16:47 of game action. The Hoosiers hung tough without scoring from him down the stretch and through the first overtime, but saw the wheels come off in the second OT in route to an 80-73 loss to the No. 8 Badgers. The Hoosiers fell to 7-5 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten, and have now lost 18 straight in Madison with their last victory there coming in 1998.
Jackson-Davis’ scoreless stretch and the events that occurred therein put into sharp relief what the Hoosiers have and what they’re missing, especially with rising-star sophomore guard Armaan Franklin on the shelf for an indefinite period with a sprained left ankle.
In Jackson-Davis, the Hoosiers have a sure-fire All-Big Ten player, possible first-teamer and likely All-American. Despite his quiet stretch he finished with 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting, 12 rebounds and four assists. They also have guards and role players who are capable of scoring, as evidenced by double-figure performances from senior guard Al Durham (15 points), redshirt sophomore wing Jerome Hunter (12 points) and junior point guard Rob Phinisee (10 points.) However, their best player doesn’t initiate the offense. Someone has to get him the ball, and they are missing the sort of lead guard who can break a defense down late in games when everyone in the building knows he’s going to shoot.
Franklin was becoming that sort of player, averaging 18.8 points per game in the five games before his injury. Wisconsin senior guard D’Mitrik Trice already is. Trice hit game-tying shots late in both regulation and the first overtime as part of a 21-point, seven-assist performance. Indiana had opportunities to win in both cases after each of Trice’s game-tying shots, but failed both times, once turning the ball over without getting a shot.
“Give them credit,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “They made a lot of winning plays at the end. We didn’t make enough winning plays at the end. That’s what it takes to win in this league. When you play the best teams in the country, which Wisconsin is, you have to find a way to step up and execute and make some tough plays. We didn’t do that when we needed to the most.”
The Hoosiers were at their most dominant when they were creating space for Jackson-Davis to operate in the pick-and-roll. When Wisconsin committed too much attention to the dribble, Jackson-Davis got easy layups and dunks, and when he didn’t, Durham and Phinisee were able to get the ball close to the rim for buckets. Largely on the strength of that basic action, the Hoosiers shot 16 of 24 from the field in the second half with Jackson-Davis making seven of his 10 shots. In the period, 14 of their 16 field goals came in the paint.
“When (Jackson-Davis) starts the pick-and-roll effectively, our guards can get downhill and make some really good plays,” Miller said. “If you look at Al and Rob, they had 11 assists in this game and our team had 19. We ran some pretty good offense in the second half.”
But after the mid-half explosion by Jackson-Davis, Wisconsin made a subtle adjustment that made it much more difficult to get those buckets. The Hoosiers scored just two field goals in the last 5:55 of the half while their six-point lead vanished.
“They were dropping with the 5 and they were switching at the 4,” Durham said. “They were making different adjustments for who were setting the screen. They ended up switching the 5 as well and having a guard guard Trayce.”
The Hoosiers found other ways of scoring and tried to get the ball to Jackson-Davis in other ways. His baseline drive and gorgeous pass out of a double-team with 41 seconds left in regulation led to a dunk by Hunter and he nearly put the game away on a drive from the left wing with three seconds to go in overtime, but narrowly missed.
In overtime, the Hoosiers scored on a 3-pointer by freshman guard Anthony Leal, a dunk by Hunter and three-point play by Durham. However, the Hoosiers had the ball with 7.7 seconds to go with a chance to win the game and didn’t have an obvious go-to guard to make the bucket. Jackson-Davis passed the ball to Durham on the left wing and tried to set a screen for him, but Phinisee came over about the same time and brought his defender into the play. Wisconsin guard Brad Davison caused a tie-up with 1.1 seconds to go and got the Badgers the ball. He nearly won the game on the ensuing possession, narrowly missing a bank-shot 3 at the buzzer.
“We called a play and we didn’t execute,” Durham said. “That was the bottom line. We didn’t execute it. Coach drew up a play. We were supposed to run a clear action, I would say. That was it. We didn’t run it.”
In the second overtime, they didn’t have any answers. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl put them on their heels with a 77-70 deficit. They scrambled for a bucket and couldn’t find a field goal until the 38 second mark when the game was already decided. In the final two overtimes, Jackson-Davis didn’t have a field goal attempt let alone a make.
More talented Indiana teams have fared far worse at the Kohl Center than this one did, and Miller expressed pride in the Hoosiers’ defense and ability to keep themselves in the game for over 45 minutes. But the hard-fought loss was a reminder that there are components necessary for closing games that the Hoosiers are missing.
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