Back in October, Trayce Jackson-Davis was selected to the AP preseason All-American team.
He received no such honors when the postseason All-American honors were announced this week. But now he is starting to play the part, and at the perfect time for Indiana.
It has been an up-and-down season not just for the Hoosiers but also for their star forward. He exploded against Marshall for 43 points while breaking the Assembly Hall scoring record. Then he followed it up with a 31-point performance in the losing effort against Syracuse.
But then just a week later, Jackson-Davis disappeared on the road against Wisconsin, held to just nine points. He also faded away against bigger, stronger opponents. Against the Purdue bigs, Jackson-Davis was summoned to the bench with foul trouble and scored just four points in just 11 minutes of play in their first matchup. Kofi Cockburn also was able to hold him to just six points on 3-of-9 shooting.
However, he has regained his form as of late. In the Big Ten Tournament, Jackson-Davis was named to the first-team for the tournament. In three games, he scored 24, 21, and 31 points while powering the team into the NCAA Tournament.
Then he sent them to the field of 64 with a 29-point outing on an efficient 10-of-16 shooting night, while cementing himself as the best player on the court.
“Really I’m doing what my teammates need me to do to win,” said Jackson-Davis. “My teammates put me in the position to get these buckets, but at the same time it’s going to take the team effort the rest of the way. And I know my teammates are excited to get started, and I’m just going to continue to produce for us.”
Along with Jackson-Davis, one of the players selected for the preseason All-American team was Drew Timme of Gonzaga. Timme averaged 17.5 points and 6.3. rebounds per game.
After seeing him three times this season, the players on today’s opponent, No. 5 St. Mary’s (7:20 p.m. Eastern, TBS), see a lot of similarities between the two big men. Which, at the beginning of the season, would not have seemed far-fetched.
It also puts Jackson-Davis back into the conversation of one of the best big men in college basketball.
“Drew is a great player. He’s got a lot of pieces around him, but he’s got great footwork on the low block, does a lot of things for their team. I think that’s a compliment. He’s a Player of the Year finalist. So I think that’s a compliment,” said Jackson-Davis of the comparison.
In the first matchup against St. Mary’s, Timme managed to get the best of them. He finished the game with 25 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. However, in the second matchup, the Gals, led by 6-foot-10 and 245 pound center Matthias Tass, started to get physical and managed to limit Timme to just six points on a 2-of-10 shooting night. In the conference championship, he was once again not himself, scoring just 10 points.
Jackson-Davis has spent the whole season banging in the post with some of the elite big men in college basketball. It no doubt has prepared him for tournament play.
“I think playing in the Big Ten gets you ready for moments like these, going against 7-foot, 280-pound guys night in and night out,” claimed Jackson-Davis.
“I feel like I’m going to have to use a lot of my athleticism and my quick feet. I hope they’re physical. I think that’s what their game plan is going to be. Wyoming kinda did it last night as well. But I’m going to have to use my athleticism really.”
This elite side of Jackson-Davis was almost not displayed on the NCAA Tournament stage.
The Hoosiers needed two wins in their conference tournament. Heading into halftime in their first game against Michigan, he had just seven points and seemed to be severely overmatched by the Wolverines’ Hunter Dickinson.
IU’s March Madness plans were on life support.
Then in the locker room, Jackson-Davis got an earful from his head coach, which lit a fire under him. Coming out of halftime, he was a man on a mission, returning to the court to score 24 second-half points while leading his team back from a 17-point deficit.
The halftime pep talk was a turning point not just for the big man, but perhaps the whole team.
“I don’t know. I mean, I just think he’s starting to — he was starting to find himself again. It doesn’t hurt that he has a coach that’s kind of screaming and in his ear a lot, too, trying to push him in the right direction,” said head coach Mike Woodson.
“I challenged him. And like I said, he could have gone the other way, but he didn’t. He responded. And his play from that halftime on has been tremendous, man.”
Jackson-Davis has also been pushed by his father, Dale Davis. The 17-year NBA veteran was also a college star at Clemson.
Davis, the father, appeared in the big dance three times. In the 1989-90 season, he led his team to the Regional Semi-final before falling to No. 4 seeded UConn. His advice to his son was short, sweet, and to the point.
“He said I have to continue to play the way I’m playing. He said I’m doing a lot of good things for the team. We sat down and had dinner the night before we left, and he said bring it to ’em. So I’m basically just going to try to keep playing at that level,” said Jackson-Davis.
The junior has already placed himself in the Indiana history books. He currently ranks No. 16 in program history with 1,547 points and is just two points away from tying Randy Wittman for No. 15 on the list.
However, if he can lead the Hoosiers to a Cinderella run, he will become a program legend. An NBA prospect that closed the door on the league to return to his alma mater to lead his team to a Sweet Sixteen?
That Woodson halftime talk would go down as the stuff of legends too.
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- Watch: Woodson, Jackson-Davis, Johnson and Thompson preview St. Mary’s
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