With Trayce Jackson-Davis out, Indiana men’s basketball needed its other bigs to step up.
Race Thompson and Malik Reneau answered the call. IU’s forwards were the center of attention for much of the evening, as the Hoosiers pulled away from from Little Rock for a 87-68 win at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Wednesday.
Jackson-Davis missed this game for precautionary reasons, allowing Reneau to make his first start as a Hoosier. The senior’s absence stemmed from apparent back soreness at the end of IU’s win over Miami (OH) on Sunday.
IU head coach Mike Woodson isn’t concerned about anything long-term with Jackson-Davis, who’s also dealing with a thumb injury.
“We’ll continue to evaluate him,” Woodson said. “He’s kind of beat up a little bit, physically. Nothing major. We rested him tonight and we’ll get him ready for, hopefully, Jackson State (on Friday).”
Reneau did start one of IU’s two exhibition games, in another game that Jackson-Davis missed. So this wasn’t the first time he was introduced in IU’s starting five in Bloomington — just the first time in the regular season. The freshman has made a strong impression on just about everyone who’s watched him through his first five games at Indiana.
He fell hard on his tailbone and lower back early in the game, which impacted the rest of his night. But he still turned in another solid outing. Reneau finished with 10 points on a 5-of-10 shooting line, with six rebounds, three assists, and one steal.
Reneau spent some extended spells on the bench both for managing his injury and foul trouble. But when he was on the court, he continued to show off the many different things he brings to the table. He pulled in rebounds in traffic, made some good passes from the post, displayed some ball-handling ability and general feel for the game, along with his already polished inside scoring ability.
Woodson didn’t set any higher expectations for Reneau or anyone else with Jackson-Davis out. He just expects his bench players to be able to step up when he calls their number
“I just said, ‘Next man up.’ That’s what this team has got to be about. I’ve always been about that as a coach,” Woodson said. “I’ve coached games where my best players have been out out of the lineup. I can’t wait on those guys. I’ve got to still coach and get guys to perform and play at a high level. I expect guys to be ready to play.”
Meanwhile, Thompson enjoyed one of his best games as a Hoosier. He led Indiana with 20 points on a 7-of-8 shooting line. This was two points shy of his career-high in points (set against Providence in November 2021). And it was Thompson’s eighth career game with seven or more made field goals — none of the previous seven were as efficient as he was on Wednesday.
Thompson added a team-high eight rebounds and two blocks, contributing to IU’s 11 blocks as a team.
He also suffered an injury during the game, taking an elbow to the face during the first half. He had to go to the locker room briefly to tend to the cut, but he returned to action pretty quickly.
Thompson said he and Xavier Johnson (nine points, 10 assists) got into a rhythm on ball-screens, which became crucial for IU’s offense.
“You see Trayce and X do it all the time, but you get X or Fino (Jalen Hood-Schifino) on a ball screen, and you set a good screen, you’re going to make something happen,” Thompson said. “They’ll make the play for you. It was really just X playing. He made the plays.”
Both Reneau and Thompson underscored their value to IU with these performances.
Reneau isn’t perfect — he’ll need to improve defensively against some tougher Big Ten frontcourts, and it’s obviously not ideal to get in foul trouble. But overall this season, Reneau has looked like a player capable of playing major minutes and potentially starting in conference play.
Thompson reminded everyone of the many roles he can fill for IU. With Jackson-Davis sidelined, and with Reneau needing those longer periods on the bench, Indiana needed Thompson to control things inside. Jordan Geronimo helped — and his five blocks are noteworthy. But battled inside with particular physicality Wednesday, because his team needed him to.
And through his entire IU career, that may sum up Thompson more than anything.
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