For a while it looked like an early February loss at Northwestern might just be what kept Indiana out of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
And that was no ordinary loss.
Moments before tip-off, IU announced Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Tamar Bates, Michael Durr and Khristian Lander were all suspended, leaving the Hoosiers severely shorthanded.
The suspensions played a major role in the Hoosiers’ 59-51 loss in Evanston, and delivered their first losing streak of the season, one that would grow to five.
After the game, head coach Mike Woodson was in no mood to reveal the details of what led to two of his starters and two more rotation regulars being forced to sit.
“I’m not going to give you all the in-house things,” Woodson said at the time. “They broke rules, and they were punished for it. If we’re going to be a team and you set rules guys have got to obey by as a team, then that’s what you’ve got to do.
“You’ve got to do all the necessary things to help your team on and off the floor. It just doesn’t start on the floor. You’ve got to do all the necessary things off the floor as well. That’s where we are.”
Without details, rumors swirled about what the “Northwestern five” had done wrong. But the players were quickly reinstated by Woodson, leaving the impression that whatever happened wasn’t too significant, and perhaps just a curfew violation related to the night before the game in Chicago. Woodson suggested curfew violations were to blame in a release related to the reinstatement.
While we still don’t have all the details, IU forward Trayce Jackson-Davis did provide some of the particulars on what led to the suspensions.
“What people don’t understand is, coach (Woodson) only knew that one or two guys were out. The other coaches didn’t tell about the other players,” Jackson-Davis said on a podcast released over the weekend.
“One of the coaches texted me, and said ‘do you want the players to play tonight,’ and I said no, they broke curfew and I don’t want them to play. Me and Race (Thompson) decided that. We said the players that broke the rules need to be punished and accounted for.”
“We had another meeting after the two players were in trouble, and he (Woodson) said ‘I asked who went out, and only two guys said so, why didn’t the rest of you guys say anything?’ So the rest of the guys got in trouble as well.”
Jackson-Davis revealed several things about himself in that moment. He is a true leader of the team, he is about the right things off the court, and he cares about winning.
“I feel like if you want to break rules and mess with our season and what we’re trying to do here, then that’s on you,” Jackson-Davis said. “Obviously everything still worked its way out, but you’ve got to hold guys accountable, it’s big to me.”
By the end of the five game losing streak, IU was 16-10 overall, 7-9 in the Big Ten, and going nowhere fast.
But as it turned out Jackson-Davis and one of the suspended five, Johnson, caught fire around the same time and saved Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes with strong efforts down the stretch.
And Johnson was publicly campaigning on social media for Jackson-Davis’ return to the IU program for the 2022-23 season, which he announced on Friday.
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