When Jordan Geronimo hit the floor against Illinois, Hoosier fans held their breath. It seemed as if his season would be cut short.
But after three days of rest, Geronimo was able to return from a leg injury and help Indiana win their first NCAA tournament game since March 19, 2016.
On Tuesday night in Dayton he had fans gasping in awe at his highlight plays.
Not once, not twice, but three times Geronimo used his freakish athleticism to rise above the rim and slam home a dunk. Then he rose again on the other end of the floor. This time instead of a dunk, it was a mean block on Hunter Maldonado that Geronimo pinned to the glass.
“It gives me a lot of energy. Gives the team energy. And it’s just an energy play. A tip dunk is an energy play. And it does a lot,” said Geronimo of his put-backs.
Then he got confident. After two close three-point misses, he finally converted on the third one. Then after getting the ball in the corner, Geronimo put the ball on the deck and called his own number. While attacking the paint, he pulled out a spin move and powered through the defender for the basket.
Geronimo finished the game with a career-high 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting and seven rebounds in just 19 minutes of play.
“He’s a freak, that’s what we call him, freak of nature. Sometimes even in the huddle he’ll do something and I’ll look at him and say you’re a freak. Because some of the things he does is just out of this world. He’s blessed with God-given athleticism and talent. And you get to see it on display, and I think that’s really cool,” said Trayce Jackson-Davis of his teammate.
Throughout the night the Hoosiers had to go to the paint, whether it was finding Geronimo or Jackson-Davis. In all, the Hoosiers scored 46 of their 66 points inside. The team hit just two three-pointers the whole game. The one from Geronimo, and another one by Xavier Johnson early in the game.
After averaging 25.3 points per game in the Big Ten Tournament, Jackson-Davis carried over the momentum by scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds. On one play, the forward turned into a point guard and pulled a euro step out of his bag of tricks before laying the ball in with his right hand.
But his most underrated contribution was at the line. Not only did he go 9-of-11 from the charity stripe, but he was also able to get Wyoming star Graham Ike into foul trouble.
The production from the two forwards was much-need with everyone else struggling to find their stroke. Aside from the duo, the team shot just 9-of-35 from the field for 25.7 percent.
“I thought our defense was really the key when we were struggling offensively to make shots. But we just kept grinding, and I found another player tonight off the bench and that was Geronimo who gave us a major, major lift tonight. And Trayce was who he’s been pretty much all year,” said head coach Mike Woodson.
The defense forced the Cowboys to commit a season-high in turnovers with 19, which led to 17 points. Hunter Maldonado, although he was able to score 21 points on an efficient 8-of-16 shooting night, gave the ball away on 10 of those turnovers.
Ike ended the game with 17 points and nine boards. However, Jackson-Davis was able to limit his impact on the game early, forcing him to miss his first five shot attempts and holding him scoreless for the first 14 minutes of the game.
“Again, we tried to stay at home with the shooters. And I figured if they were going to beat us he would have to be the one,” Woodson said of Maldonado.
“We did an excellent job the first half on (Graham) Ike. But his back-downs, I just try to tell our guys not to get so over long. I mean, if we left the 3-point shooters and doubled him, then that exposes us in that category. And I thought we did a great job in guarding the 3-point line and limited them to 2s.”
After having just two full days to rest between their conference tournament and the First Four, the Hoosiers have just one full day of rest before their next game. They will travel to Portland, Oregon to take on the No. 5 seeded St. Mary’s on Thursday.
With the play-in game being in Dayton, Ohio, it was practically a home game for the Hoosiers. However, Portland is a long way from Indiana. 2,264.8 miles to be exact. And, for the die-hard fans who are brave enough, a 34-hour car ride. Coach Woodson has already started recruiting fans for the game.
“Can I say, Hoosier Nation, I need you all. I need 8,000 people in Portland,” claimed Woodson.
“I hope we have a heck of a crowd out there. I hope they travel. We travel pretty far. But with that being said, we still gotta play the game. Can’t run from it. Saint Mary’s is a great program. They’ve had a hell of a year. And we’ve got to go down and break this game tape tonight and learn from it and then get ready for Saint Mary’s.”