Shortly before Indiana took the court against Ohio State, head coach Mike Woodson talked with freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino.
The point guard was battling an upset stomach, but was set to play anyway. Woodson wanted to reassure him and motivate him ahead of the game. So he channeled some of his own experiences.
“I told him right before the game, I said, ‘Hey, I’ve had some of my best games when I’ve been sick, so hell, I can’t feel sorry for you, you’ve got to strap them up and go play. We need you,'” Woodson said. “He performed. I thought he came out and played his butt off.”
Hood-Schifino took after his coach Saturday, enjoying one of his finest nights of the season in Indiana’s 86-70 win in Bloomington. He scored 24 points off an efficient 8-for-12 clip, including a 6-for-9 mark from 3-point range. He dished three assists with only one turnover, and added two steals and a block.
Most of the scoring came in the first half. He caught fire in his 18 minutes on the court that half, hitting all six of his threes and racking up 20 points by halftime. The 3-point barrage started on an ill-advised attempt early in the shot clock with two defenders around him, but he still made it.
That pretty much summed up Hood-Schifino’s performance in the first half — he had more confidence in his outside shot than he’s had in any other game this season. He set a season-high with both his six made threes and his nine attempts.
Woodson lauded the freshman’s coachability and professionalism in working to improve. His teammates see it, too.
“Fino, he’s ready to go at any moment, at any time,” freshman Malik Reneau said. “He prepares mentally, physically, and it’s two or three days before the game time, he’s in the gym, getting up shots, after practice, before practice. He’s really prepared for when those games come to perform like he performed today.”
— Jalen Hood-Schifino (@jalenhs) January 29, 2023
This type of performance is what makes this year’s IU team different from previous iterations.
Trayce Jackson-Davis was the only player on those teams who could really take over a game like that. Sure, other guys would step up on occasion, but IU hasn’t had a truly reliable second fiddle to Jackson-Davis throughout his career. And Hood-Schifino is now that guy.
Jackson-Davis was not yet dominating in the first half Saturday. He, and Reneau, both scored eight in the half, but the Buckeyes were swarming the paint and doing as much as they could to take the inside game away from IU. The Hoosiers closed the first half on a 17-1 run — the difference in the game. Hood-Schifino scored just three points in that span.
But prior to that run, he was really the only source of Indiana’s points. The Hoosiers aren’t in position to pull away if Hood-Schifino didn’t take over in the first 15 minutes.
And that’s just not something the Hoosiers consistently had in previous years outside of Jackson-Davis. Hood-Schifino has put up big numbers on several previous occasions, and he has a knack for making the sorts of plays that spark the rest of the team.
“He just listens. I mean, even when I challenge him, he listens, and he doesn’t bark back. When he steps on the floor, he’s serious about it, and that’s why the carryover when he plays in real games is like he plays,” Woodson said. “He plays pretty damn good basketball for us.”
When Hood-Schifino is playing like this, it takes pressure off the rest of the team. Guys like Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway, Reneau, and others can operate more as tertiary scoring options instead of needing to be a secondary. And Indiana is at its best with those players in those positions, instead of needing to rely on them for big games.
Hood-Schifino has had his off games, as most freshmen do. And he won’t always shine like this, when Jackson-Davis is putting up the All-American-caliber numbers he has.
But the freshman sure looks to be the secondary option next to Jackson-Davis that IU has needed for some time. And if he can continue that into the upcoming tougher part of the Big Ten schedule, Indiana will be better for it.
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