When Khristian Lander committed to IU last winter, he made clear the likelihood of Trayce Jackson-Davis leaving after the 2020-2021 season was a key factor in his decision to reclassify.
“I feel like if I get ahold of Trayce, we can dominate the Big Ten,” Lander said in February.
He may ultimately be proven right, but in Indiana’s commanding 79-58 victory over Providence on Monday afternoon, it was the more unheralded players on Archie Miller’s roster that got a chance to shine.
While Jackson-Davis struggled with efficiency and battled foul trouble, and Lander was held scoreless in nine minutes of game time, it was Race Thompson and Al Durham — neither of whom cracked the top 130 in their respective recruiting classes — who came to play.
Thompson, who maintained his high-level defensive play across a game-high 35 minutes, was the breakout player of this game, scoring a career-high 22 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, eight of which were offensive. The Friars simply had no answer for Thompson inside. He was too physical, had too much touch around the rim, and had too much hustle. Last year Thompson’s hustle and motor translated to winning for Indiana. Today, in a bigger role, it also showed up in the box score.
“Got a monster effort from Race Thompson,” Miller said after the game.
“Race Thompson manhandles us,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said.
Durham controlled the game from the perimeter, knifing his way to the basket and raining down threes on the Friars to the tune of 19 points and six rebounds. He scored 15 of those points in the second half, and made three of his five treys. Durham has long been an underrated contributor for the Hoosiers, and he took over in the second half, leaving no doubt that this would be a statement IU win, and not a scrappy Providence comeback.
“We just played together,” Durham said. “We had a togetherness about us, a grittiness about us, it all came to fruition for us.”
As the role players stepped up, the team actualized Archie Miller’s vision of a defensive-minded group that controls the boards. Indiana’s team defense suffocated the Friars, holding Ed Cooley’s squad to 37 percent from the field and 18 percent from long range. David Duke, Providence’s most talented offensive player, was limited to 12 points on 3-12 shooting in large part due to Rob Phinisee’s effort on that end.
It was, in many ways, the quintessential Archie Miller game. Four years into his tenure, it is clear Miller has a team that has bought into his defensive philosophy and is no longer beating itself. Indiana won the turnover battle. It easily won the rebounding battle. It had 11 more assists than Providence and just one less foul.
It should be noted that Trayce Jackson-Davis is still this team’s focal point, the star who will command the most attention from opposing defenses. Despite not having his “A” game, the big man was able to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds, and had one of his more impressive games as a passer.
But Indiana’s full potential won’t be reached by forcing the ball to Jackson-Davis when he isn’t in a rhythm. The Hoosiers can become the best version of themselves with performances like they got Monday from guys like Thompson and Durham.
This beauty of this team is that it can be someone different each night. On Wednesday against Tennessee Tech, it was Trey Galloway who stepped up. Against Providence, Thompson and Durham controlled the game. Rob Phinisee, Armaan Franklin, Jerome Hunter, Lander, even Jordan Geronimo all have the ability to provide a scoring boost in any given game.
Against a good Providence team Indiana was able to dominate not because of Jackson-Davis, but in spite of him. In fact, that might be the most encouraging aspect of the game. Indiana beat a good team by 21 points when their best player was having an off night.
If that can continue, this team has a chance to be Archie Miller’s best yet. They certainly looked like it Monday afternoon in Asheville.
“We had a lot of contributions, important contributions from everybody on the team. We beat a really good team,” Miller said.
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