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Trayce Jackson-Davis finally outduels Illinois; likely has team in the Big Dance

Survive and advance. That’s the name of the game.

The Hoosiers live to see another day in the Big Ten Tournament after upsetting the No. 1 seed Illinois. With a big win over the Fighting Illini, Indiana now also seems destined for the NCAA Tournament for this first time since 2016.

However, their work is not done yet in Indianapolis.

“It’s big for us, honestly,” said Trayce Jackson-Davis of the team’s tournament chances.

“But what X (avier Johnson) told you guys yesterday, we didn’t pack for two days, we didn’t pack for three days, we packed to win the Big Ten, and that’s what Coach Woodson’s put a big emphasis on this year. I’m glad we got this W today to solidify our spot, but at the same time, we want to play two more games.”

The biggest problem heading into the game was Kofi Cockburn.

He remained a problem on Friday, by dropping 23 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks. The seven-foot, 285-pounder was just too big and physical to stop altogether.

However, the perimeter defenders of the Hoosiers stepped up. The usual playmakers of Illinois were limited. Andre Curbelo was held to just five points on 1-for-5 shooting. Alfonso Plummer went 2-for-12 from the field and scored just six points, and Trent Frazier also had eleven points.

“Well, Kofi’s going to get hit his. He’s a great player, he’s an All-American. But at the same time, we knew that we were going to try to slow him down,” said Jackson-Davis.

“But in the second half late, he started getting a lot of buckets, but we really shut their guard play down. So basically we were just trying to let me play one-on-one with him and then have our guards be taking away, and that’s what we did. So our guards did a great job stepping up and not letting him pitch 3s.”

Last game against Illinois, Jackson-Davis could not compete with Cockburn on either side of the ball. He attempted to go after the physical specimen in the post, however, Cockburn would not give way. As a result, Jackson-Davis had one of his worst games of the season by scoring just six points on three-of-nine shooting and grabbed just six boards.

This time was different. He still went at Cockburn but was more successful this time around. The second-team All-Big Ten forward scored 21 points on nine-of-13 shooting. In the first half alone he scored the same amount of points as their last matchup. But, he would not stop there.

In the second half, the junior received an easy dunk off a dump-off pass from Xavier Johnson, who himself had 13 points, four rebounds, and six assists, that got him going. The next time he collected the ball was in the post against Cockburn. This time, he hit the center with a quick spin move off the catch and laid the ball up for a reverse layup.

Jackson-Davis was so confident in himself that he even attempted a late-game jump shot and connected on it.

“I said Halleluiah,” head coach Mike Woodson said of watching the jump shot.

Today seemed like one of those days that whatever the star forward wanted, he got.

“There’s been a lot of talk, especially the last two years of me not showing up at the end of the season, so I’m trying to change that narrative,” said Jackson-Davis.

“I think that team (Illinois) is honestly the team that got me in the slump that I’ve been in the last month. And when we played them on February 5th, it took a lot of my confidence away. So Illinois was a bully today and I think we took care of that problem. So I’m just going to keep playing the way that I am and then we’ll go from there.”

The score was close throughout the slugfest of a game. No team held a lead larger than six points. Like many other games, the Hoosiers needed to execute down the stretch.

Once again, it was the defense coming through. Up by one, Illinois had the ball with a chance to win the game. Frazier drove the lane and appeared to be going up against Jackson-Davis for the game-winning attempt. Then, he stepped back and tried to kick it out but threw the ball out of bounds.

However, after a missed free throw by Miller Kopp, they had another chance. This time it was Curbelo attempting to play the hero. He drove the lane and received a decent look after a euro step, but could not get the basket to fall.

“I just couldn’t get them over the hump. And now they’re really starting to believe,” said head coach Mike Woodson. “You lose enough of them, hell, you start to get breaks your way. And I thought today we got a great break in the turnover that they had down the stretch and we were able to still secure the win.”

The Hoosiers have been kept out of the big dance for the past six years. The last time they were in the tournament, Tom Crean was the coach and Yogi Ferrell was the star player.

The pair led the Hoosiers to a Sweet Sixteen appearance before falling to the No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels. It has been too long since the Hoosiers have been dancing.

“Well, that’s a great, great feeling, I think it’s great for our program really. And these players, it’s been about these guys ever since we started the journey,” said Woodson of the idea the team will end the NCAA drought.

“It’s been — for me it’s been fun because it’s kind of been a rollercoaster ride watching these guys develop over this season so far, but the thing that I like about our team, man, we are competitive. Even though we’ve lost a lot of close games, we are very, very competitive. From a coaching standpoint that’s all you can ask for, but I think it’s great for our program, it’s fantastic that we’re back in the big dance.”

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