BLOOMINGTON – It took an otherworldly second-half performance from a bona fide superstar, but Indiana is back at .500 in the Big Ten.
At halftime tonight, I wrote that if Indiana didn't start playing better on offense, its only chance to win against Maryland was if Trayce Jackson-Davis went supernova and took over the game. That was exactly what happened as the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball poured in 17 second-half points, and finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds in the game and at one juncture scored 12 straight Hoosiers points to help them run away from Maryland at Assembly Hall and win 63-55.
It was by no means a pretty performance for the Hoosiers. They went just 4 for 22 from 3-point range and Jackson-Davis spent much of the first half looking like he was trying to avoid contact that wasn't there around the rim, but Indiana got it done and is now the owner of back-to-back Big Ten victories as it heads into the House of Pain, also known as the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin, where the Hoosiers haven't won since 1998.
"Tonight wasn't our night (offensively)," Miller said, with significant understatement. "But we found a way to win."
That they did and it was in large part because of Jackson-Davis's heroics down the stretch, though he had plenty of help from a bulldog defensive performance that held Maryland to just 38% shooting and seven 3-pointers on 25 attempts. That's an outstanding night against a team that came in shooting nearly 38% from beyond the arc and it was a welcome change from other games this season in which Indiana let a poor offensive performance affect its defensive intensity. Not so against the Terrapins.
"When you go 0 for 9 from 3 in the first half, it's frustrating," coach Archie Miller said. "Sometimes this team gets down on itself when it's not scoring and the offense isn't going well and it can hurt you defensively, they let it play a role defensively. That didn't happen so much tonight. And guys stepped up and kept shooting and we had a couple go in that we needed to go in."
One potential reason for the lack of offensive flow, especially in the first half, was the absence of sophomore guard Armaan Franklin. Franklin rolled his ankle early in the game and did not return. He tried to play, but he just couldn't put enough weight on the joint to run and Miller said he will also be "doubtful" for the next two games in this jam-packed week, at Wisconsin and at Nebraska.
Franklin is Indiana's best 3-point shooter, hitting 47.6% from beyond the arc coming into the game tonight. He has a couple of 20-point performances this season and has bailed the Hoosiers out a few times when they haven't been playing well offensively. Jackson-Davis provided plenty of offensive firepower in the second half tonight, but in Franklin's absence the Hoosiers will really have to have some other players step up in a big way.
Chief among those players who need to be better is redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter. Hunter had a roller-coaster of a game, getting beaten one on one a couple of times in the first half for baskets, fouling 3-point shooters twice in the second half, then making a crucial 3-pointer to put the Hoosiers ahead 45-43, a lead Indiana would hold the rest of the night. Then, Indiana led by nine with 1:20 left and had a chance to run the clock. Instead, Hunter launched a 3 with more than 15 seconds left to shoot. It went in, but Miller was nearly apoplectic and pulled Hunter from the game. The former top 60 recruit finished with six points, three rebounds and two assists, but he'll need to play a much better all-around game if he's going to take a lot of Franklin's minutes, which is Indiana's ideal solution.
"Those were two really tough foul calls at the end of shot clocks when we had a stop," Miller said of Hunter's 3-point fouls. "He's gotta be more disciplined there to avoid fouling and we've talked to Jerome a lot about that, it's being smart. Offensively, he stuck a big (3) for us and then the second one, thank god it went in. That was a questionable shot at that time of the game. But that's who he is, the more he plays the more confidence he has.
"But he was great on the boards. ... He played the 3 tonight for us for the first time all year and our defense did a pretty good job and on offense he can shoot it for us. We needed some extra firepower."
This was something of a mirror image of Indiana's earlier games against Illinois and Northwestern. This time, instead of starting fast and letting a lead get away, the Hoosiers started slowly and then seemed to get stronger as the game went along. They had a full 40 minutes of defensive intensity against a good team for the first time since the Maui Invitational and Jackson-Davis was the closer they needed down the stretch. It's only one win, but in a game where you shoot as poorly as Indiana did, any victory is welcome. This one took guts and the Hoosiers showed plenty of them, for the first time in quite a while.