Indiana Basketball remains unbeaten after a victory over North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. What are some key takeaways on the Hoosiers’ side?
It felt like old times at Assembly Hall on Wednesday night as Indiana Basketball extended preseason number one North Carolina’s losing streak to three games. It was a quintessential college basketball environment. Two storied programs, ranked teams, a position match-up between two preseason All-Americans, and a packed house that was lively from the opening tip.
Indiana’s 77-65 win over North Carolina represents a ton of positivity for a blue-blood program that has desperately tried to become relevant in the college basketball landscape over the past decade. It wasn’t pretty at times, but Indiana and their top ten ranking made a statement on Wednesday night: the Hoosiers are BACK! (I have an eerie feeling this can become a freezing cold take but whatever).
It’s a win that should give Hoosier fans a sense of optimism that this team can contend in the Big Ten and maybe mess around and have a fun March. Let’s go ahead and dive into why I’m so impressed with this team after last night.
Indiana bent but didn’t break
The Hoosiers were in complete control for most of the game on Wednesday night, especially in the second half. Their largest lead of the game was 46-31 with 15 minutes remaining. At that point, you had to figure that North Carolina was going to make a decent push to get themselves back in the game. They did, in a way.
North Carolina was able to at least get the game within single digits a few times in large part due to their ability to get to the free throw line. Indiana smothered them defensively and there were a few stretches late in the second half where the only offense UNC could muster was drawing fouls and getting freebies. It got them within striking distance but never closer than a two-possession game. Despite shooting 27 free throws (and making 20 of them), it was never enough as Indiana did a fantastic job defensively of limiting the impact of UNC’s guards and playmakers.
Speaking of Indiana’s defensive performance, it not only helped preserve the win but gave them a pretty good cushion of a lead to begin with. The Hoosiers played passing lanes very well and at the end of the first half, turned up the pressure to force steals (credited to Xavier Johnson) that led to fast break buckets from Trey Galloway to close the half and turn Indiana’s lead from three to seven in a matter of seconds.
North Carolina was held to 0.93 points per possession, shot 36.6% on two-point attempts, and 27.8% on three-point attempts and forced them into a horrific assist-to-turnover ratio of 5:10. Indiana star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis had a pretty good description of how their defense works after the game.
“I thought our defense was very constrictive, like an anaconda. It was very constrictive,” Jackson-Davis said. “We just really sucked the life out of UNC early and they couldn’t get any big shots, honestly.”
Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson can also be credited for slowing down preseason All-American Armando Bacot to one of his more sluggish performances of the season with 12 points but on 4-10 shooting inside the paint.
Speaking of Jackson-Davis…
The standout Hoosier big man had a Wooden Award-caliber game. He’s called on to provide so much of an offense that centers around getting quality shots in the paint (one of the reasons why they have one of the five highest 2-point percentages in all of college basketball). On Wednesday night, he delivered in epic fashion.
Jackson-Davis tallied 21 points, grabbed ten rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked four shots. He was dominant inside and Bacot and the rest of the North Carolina defense had no answer. Double-teaming him was pointless because he constantly found teammates for open looks and his three offensive rebounds created additional offense off missed looks. His 9-16 shooting from two-point range made for an efficient 21 points as well.
In a highly competitive conference with plenty of quality bigs like Zach Edey, Coleman Hawkins, Zed Key and Hunter Dickinson, it will be vitally important that Jackson-Davis be able to carry this offense and be the source of a reliable basket in crunch time. Indiana is a really solid team, but Jackson-Davis has one of the largest responsibilities of any player in the country. On Wednesday night, he displayed how well he can carry them when called upon against a fantastic opposing big in Bacot and Pete Nance.
Coach Mike Woodson didn’t call it a statement game afterward, but I will. I think this was a statement win for the Hoosiers and that statement is that this team has what it takes to contend in the Big Ten, win against high-quality opponents, pose Assembly Hall as a place nobody will want to play at this year and showcase Jackson-Davis as a player who is one of the best in college basketball.
Indiana was ranked tenth coming into the game and even though North Carolina is free-falling their way out of the top 25, is a very good win for the Hoosiers to have on their resume. And, dare I say it, the Hoosiers are…back?