Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis says he doesn’t know why Parker Stewart keeps getting open looks on the perimeter. It certainly makes no sense to leave Stewart open. But if he looked in a mirror the junior preseason All-American big man would see the answer.
The combination of Jackson-Davis and Stewart has created for Indiana what Notre Dame coach Mike Brey referred to as a “dilemma.” Trap the post, Stewart, makes you pay from three. Stick to Stewart, Jackson-Davis burns you one-on-one.
The combination has been lethal for IU through 11 games.
With 27 makes from long range on 55 attempts, Stewart’s 49.1 percent accuracy rate from deep is on pace for the seventh-best season in program history. Meanwhile Jackson-Davis has the fourth best field goal percentage in the league at 60.1 percent, more than eight percentage points higher than where he was last season.
Although he is the oldest player on the team, Stewart is playing just his third season of college basketball after transferring to IU last season soon after his father and former UT Martin head coach Anthony Stewart passed away unexpectedly. After going through a traumatic year, and a second year in three seasons away from the game, Indiana wasn’t sure what they were getting in Stewart. But head coach Mike Woodson’s knows what he’s got now — a much needed shooter.
“He has been very important for us,” Woodson said. “I didn’t know where the three-point shooting was going to come, and Parker and Miller (Kopp) both have stepped up and made some threes for us.”
After no seasons within the top-200 nationally since 2016-17 when it comes to 3-point shooting percentage, IU has made 37.3 percent from three thus far in 2021-22, good for No. 39. And that is in large part thanks to Stewart’s torrid start.
It has been a long journey for the 23-year-old, full of highs and lows since he graduated from Union City High School in Tennessee in 2017. Stewart started his career at Pitt, and he only landed there after decommitting from Nebraska after then-Cornhuskers assistant coach Kenya Hunter left to go to UConn. He showed great promise as a true freshman in the ACC, averaging 9.1 points while shooting 38.6 percent from the field.
Stewart then followed his father to UT Martin where after sitting out a year he quickly became the focal point of the offense and opposing defenses. He showed in that 2019-20 season that he could be a primary scorer and averaged 19.2 points per game, although his team’s dependence on him caused him to be a bit inefficient. He made 41.2 percent of his overall shots including 34.8 percent from three.
That was a much different experience, and much different role than what he has this season. Now Stewart is able to benefit from someone else attracting most of the attention.
“Trusting the offense and staying patient has allowed my shots to come I think,” Stewart said. “Trayce is a very unselfish player and I know when teams throw different defenses at him that opens up things for me as well as everybody else.”
Jackson-Davis has clearly improved his ability to read defenses. He begins each post-move with one eye on the help defense, and if anyone tries to swoop in for a dig or double, he knows where the ball is going.
“We know when he is out on the floor we know exactly where he is at all times,” Jackson-Davis said. “We try to find him, and for some reason teams keep leaving him, and we’re going to feed him shots, and he is going to hit those shots. You have seen it. We’re going to keep feeding him.”
Stewart came to Indiana because of Hunter. After losing his father, he needed someone to lean on, someone he could trust.
“It’s the people that are here with you supporting you that means the most and that’s what we’ve done (for Parker),” Hunter said in the spring of Stewart, who arrived in Bloomington in January.
That support, along with the words of his father have helped the starting shooting guard provide the kind of potent perimeter weapon Indiana has missed in recent years.
“The time I had off last year I was focusing on recovering from injuries and getting myself back together mentally after my dad passed,” Stewart said. “But my Dad always taught me to prepare myself the right way so I think getting extra shots up everyday and continuing to lock in on defense has helped this season. Along with having great teammates that I know are with me through the ups and downs.”
Stewart has proven to be an easy teammate to support. He is well liked in the locker room, and the positive energy is flowing both ways.
“Parker is one of the most gracious guys on our team,” Jackson-Davis said. “We all love him.”
The love extends to the floor, where the inside-out dynamic between Jackson-Davis and Stewart is putting opposing defenses in a tough spot.
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