Photo credit IU Athletics

With a double-bye at stake, and Michigan in control, Indiana and its seniors showed resolve

As the afternoon went on at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the scene was familiar.

Indiana had a double-digit lead in the first half against Michigan, but the Wolverines stormed back to enter halftime down by just two points. And that surge continued out of the locker room. In 7:30 of game time, spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, Michigan went on a 29-7 run.

The Wolverines quickly took the lead in the second half, and extended it to double-digits, themselves, less than six minutes into the half. Indiana fans stood for most of the first half, and Assembly Hall was loud. But as the game flipped, the noise level dropped, and fans sat.

The energy in the building changed.

And it’s hard to come back from that once it happens.

The fans yearned for anything to get excited about. They wanted to get back into the game. But Indiana made it hard. The Hoosiers would make a big play, get the crowd going again, but follow it up with a miscue.

There have been other similar games in recent years where the Hoosiers let it get too far out of reach before they could come back. In Indiana’s last game against Iowa, that happened to such an extreme in the first half that a comeback just never happened.

But IU didn’t let that happen on Sunday. The Hoosiers found a way back, and pulled out an important 75-73 overtime win.

IU head coach Mike Woodson was unsure how his team would respond after Tuesday’s blowout loss to Iowa. And despite letting the early lead slip, he was pleased with the resolve his group showed.

“They’ve got a lot of fight in them,” Woodson said. “When we’re clicking defensively and getting stops, and then if we’re making shots, we’re a pretty good team.”

Indiana (21-10, 12-8 Big Ten) didn’t make a big run to make the deficit evaporate. The Hoosiers just chipped away, methodically. They remained within arm’s length after Michigan (17-14, 11-9) went up by 10.

And on senior day, the Hoosiers’ three main seniors came through in the clutch to help them over the line.

Miller Kopp had a rough game, in all, but he hit one of the biggest shots of the evening. With Indiana down 60-51, after a steal by Trayce Jackson-Davis, Kopp got the ball in front of the IU bench with around 8:15 remaining. He pump faked to a teammate in the corner, which shook off the defender, and then buried his only 3-pointer of the game after missing his first four attempts.

Once it became a two-possession game, it started to feel like a comeback was possible.

Race Thompson had one of his best games of the year in this big spot. He recorded his second double-double of the season, with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and he added four steals. Thompson displayed his typical knack for being in the right place at the right time, on both ends of the court.

Woodson called his two late-game steals of Michigan standout Hunter Dickinson — one with 29 seconds left in regulation and the other with 14 seconds to go in overtime — the two biggest plays of the game.

Jackson-Davis, as he has so many times this year, stepped up when his team needed it most. He scored 15 points in the second half, with nine of them coming before that Kopp shot which sparked Indiana’s run. In other words, Jackson-Davis was crucial in helping keep the game from getting away. And in the last home game of his legendary IU career, he put up 27 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and two steals.

Jackson-Davis said the Hoosiers knew Michigan would make a run at some point. And he, too, was proud of his team for the way it answered.

“There’s been a lot of fight from this group of guys. We could have easily quit when we were down ten early in the second half. They were hitting shots, but instead we dug in on defense, counteracted their runs, and just played hard and played for each other,” Jackson-Davis said. “You do that, you go on a little run, you get this crowd engaged — we have the best fans in college basketball, so we ride that.”

Indiana knew what was at stake Sunday. With Penn State beating Maryland and Nebraska beating Iowa before this game started, the winner between Indiana and Michigan would secure a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

Jackson-Davis said the team knew about those results before tipoff, and that provided extra motivation.

And that extra day off could be huge for the Hoosiers. They had to play three games in three days last year, and still would’ve needed to play a fourth to have a shot at the title. Those circumstances were different, as IU was fighting for its NCAA Tournament life last year, while an at-large berth is essentially assured this year.

But with a double-bye secured, Indiana would only have to play three games this year to add to its Big Ten Champions banner. And having fresher legs, because of the double-bye, could make a difference.

“(The double-bye is) very important,” Woodson said. “Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there’s still a lot of basketball, there really is. We have to take it one game at a time, one day at a time and see where it leaves us. But I’m happy that we are playing three games versus four.”