Trayce Jackson-Davis said he couldn’t explain why. It’s possible, and understandable, that he simply didn’t want to.
The Indiana sophomore center and likely All-American was asked during a Zoom press conference Friday whether he agreed with IU coach Archie Miller’s assessment that the Hoosiers were “fractured” during the period from the middle of the first half to the end of the second half against Rutgers Wednesday when the Scarlet Knights swung the score 35 points in their favor en route to a 74-63 win. Jackson-Davis said he couldn’t deny it, but rather than diagnose the factors that led to it, he vowed that the Hoosiers would put it past them.
“We’ve been down in games before,” Jackson-Davis said. “Iowa, we were down by nine, both games we were down by nine. Northwestern, we were down by seven with a minute left. With these other two (against Michigan State and Rutgers), we had the lead, we were up by a lot. When they came back, we weren’t really prepared to, I don’t know, I don’t really know how to explain it. We weren’t prepared to play. I don’t even know how to answer it honestly. Just know that it won’t happen again, that’s basically all that you need to know.”
Indiana fans would certainly like to believe it’s that simple, but the way that the Hoosiers collapsed on both defense against Michigan State last Saturday and then on both ends against Rutgers provides a significant amount of evidence that Indiana’s will is shaken. The Hoosiers are flawed on both ends of the floor, but throughout a very mediocre season in which they are currently 12-11 overall, 7-9 in the Big Ten, they usually at least summoned enough will to make games interesting in the second half.
That fortitude was evidently lacking against Rutgers, as evidenced by numerous statistical red flags — among them the Scarlet Knights’ 22 fast-break points and nine dunks. It wasn’t much better against Michigan State when the Spartans shot about 56 percent in the second half and averaged almost 1.5 points per possession, an astronomical figure.
Jackson-Davis suggested, however, that the Hoosiers could improve in the way they finished games in the same way they improved in the way they were starting games. After a string of games in which they fell behind by double-figures, the Hoosiers were up double-digits on both Michigan State and Rutgers in the first half before their collapses in those games.
“A few weeks ago, it was all about starting too slow,” Jackson-Davis said. “We’re not getting off to a good start. Now we’re starting really well actually. Now we’re letting teams get back up and and we’re not weathering the storm when they go on a run. I think we just need to pull a full 40 minute game together. The only way to do that is keep working hard and know that if you’re practicing hard, it’s going to equal out to you playing hard.”
Playing hard on Saturday at noon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall probably isn’t going to be enough against No. 3 Michigan. The Wolverines would be considered the hottest team in the country if No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor weren’t still undefeated, and they might be in spite of that fact.
They are 17-1 overall and 12-1 in the Big Ten. Since a three-week layoff due to an athletic department-wide pause for COVID-19 issues at Michigan that kept the Wolverines off the floor from Jan. 22 to Feb. 14, they have knocked off No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 4 Ohio State on the road and Rutgers and No. 9 Iowa at home. After out-dueling the Buckeyes Sunday in what might have been the most entertaining college basketball game of the season, they hammered Iowa on Thursday night 79-57. In that game, they held the Hawkeyes, who have the second-most efficient offense in the nation with 125.7 points per 100 possessions to a season-low .85 points per possession.
The Wolverines have one of the nation’s most balanced offenses with no one averaging 15 points a game or more but six players over 8.0 points per game. In Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner, they have two of the conference’s most talented wings and in the middle they have freshman Hunter Dickinson, the runaway favorite to be the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year.
“The biggest thing with them is, obviously defensively, they’re really, really good,” Jackson-Davis said. “On offense, especially with their screens, we gotta get their guards off the ball. We gotta get them pushed back up to half court. Our guards have to be physical and be able to get over them because Hunter gets a lot of his points coming down on wrap-around passes when their guards are getting downhill on screens. Taking away screens are going to be one of the biggest keys to the game tomorrow.”
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