BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There are going to be early struggles at the beginning of a season especially when practices and scrimmages have been limited because of a pandemic.
Indiana showed its fair share of rust in an 89-59 victory over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles Wednesday night in Bloomington. However, with the rust there were bright spots as the Hoosiers earn their first victory of the season.
“It was just a different feel, but we needed this game bad to play against somebody else,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “I think everybody is excited we were obviously able to get the win. Some guys did some really good things in the game. We got a lot of guys in the game which was good. So, we have some feedback now against somebody else.”
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Trayce Jackson-Davis remains Indiana’s best offensive weapon
Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to be the Hoosiers’ best offensive attack. IU’s leading scorer from a year ago took some time to find his rhythm from the previous season. Jackson-Davis started the game 1-of-6 from the field and had just four points at the first media timeout. Even with the missed layups early, Jackson-Davis did not stray from the inside recording five rebounds at the first break.
Indiana (1-0, 0-0 B1G) focused on the perimeter early and had a 25-17 lead at the 8:11 mark keeping Tennessee Tech close. The Hoosiers found 3-point shots outside but could not connect, shooting just 2-of-8. The Golden Eagles kept fighting back and gained momentum entering the under eight timeout.
Then, once the second media timeout was over, Jackson-Davis played like the All-Big Ten freshman team member from last season. The Greenwood, Ind. native took advantage in the paint and would not be silenced. He hit five of his next six field goals finishing the first half with 14 points and seven rebounds.
“Trayce is such an important part of what we are doing,” Miller said. “I think you could tell at the start of this game he was maybe little nervous or a little rushed. He missed some easy baskets, but then once we settled down I thought our guys did a good job of popping in in to him a couple times to get him started. Then, once he got started I think he was himself.”
Jackson-Davis continued his dominance in the second half and even made a jump shot near the 3-point line. The ability to hit outside shots is something he is developing through footage of various practices. Nonetheless, he was successful in his deepest attempt on Wednesday.
Jackson-Davis recorded his 13th double-double of his career after scoring a game-high 26 points with 11 rebounds.
As tougher competition rises, it is going to be key for Indiana to get the ball to their best player. He is the main piece of the Hoosiers’ offense and has the capability of getting the IU back on track offensively.
“Getting the first one under the belt is good, but when the lights are the brightest and you are playing against the best players and teams that is when Trayce usually really kind of gears it up, so I’m anxious to see him as we get down here to Asheville,” Miller said. “He is going to need to be terrific for us.”
Highs and lows from the freshmen
Freshmen will have their ups and downs as they began their collegiate career. For Indiana, its freshmen have shown glimpses of what they can be for the Hoosiers. They also showed that there is plenty of room for development this season.
Indiana’s 2020 recruiting class ranks 15th in the country and second in the Big Ten according to 247Sports. There is an abundance of talent in that group with five-star Khristian Lander, four-star Jordan Geronimo, and three-star players Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway.
The freshman with the biggest impact Wednesday night was no doubt Galloway and it was by doing the little things.
Hustling in transition and beating everyone down the court for open layups, that is what Galloway did Wednesday night. On one play, Jackson-Davis caught the ball mid-air and led Galloway with a one handed pass past half court for an easy layup. Galloway sprinted in transition on another play while receiving an on-target bounce pass from Lander for another score. The Culver, Ind. native recorded 13 points off the bench on 6-of-9 shooting with two rebounds and two assists.
“He got out in transition at least three or four times and made good plays,” Miller said. “He can really finish. He is good in the open floor. I think you got a chance to see what we see in the open floor and how he attacks.”
Galloway went 0-of-2 on 3-pointers Wednesday night, but if he develops the deep ball in his game then Indiana has a new weapon to use on offense.
“I thought he played really well,” Jackson-Davis said regarding Galloway’s performance Wednesday night. “First game under your belt against another team, we have been beating up on each other in practice, so just trying to execute it. Overall I thought he played really well, especially for his first game.”
Lander did not make much of an impact in the scoring column recording just five points on 2-of-5 shooting and 1-of-4 on 3-pointers. However, Lander did not show hesitation on his open looks and found his teammates when handling the ball. The Evansville Reitz High School product had two assists tonight, but after reclassifying a year up Lander may need more time to find his role in the new system.
Leal and Geronimo’s play did not result in many stats, but their play is going to be key for the Hoosiers as the season goes on. Both freshmen add depth to Indiana’s lineup and Geronimo’s athleticism and vertical ability can aid on both sides of the court. Geronimo went up for a block on an Austin Harvell three in the corner and just got a piece of the ball to force it off its course.
“I think you will see that all of them will contribute,” Miller said about the freshmen. “All of them are going to be an important piece to this team because we are going to need everybody throughout the course of the year to help develop our depth. I think all those guys are working hard and can help us.”
All four freshmen played at the same time on multiple occasions against the Golden Eagles. The group looked fast in transition, but there is a limit with the size on the floor, depending on who the fifth player is. Geronimo is the tallest out of the four freshmen at 6-foot-6. As the season progresses, can this be a weapon or a vulnerability for Indiana?
“Our relationship is really good off the court,” Galloway said. “The team chemistry, I think is a good factor with us and it carried over on the court. I think we picked each other up, and just locking in on defense and creating offense for us, it helped out.”
The shooting struggles continue
One of the biggest challenges last season was Indiana’s shooting from 3-point territory and at the free-throw line.
That struggle did not go away Wednesday night.
Indiana shot 5-of-19 from the 3-point line and 10-of-22 from the free-throw line. Rob Phinisee was the only Hoosier to hit multiple 3-point shots on the night hitting 2-of-3. Indiana found open shots in their offense, but most did not fall. Tennessee Tech (0-1, 0-0 OVC) came out with energy early on and keyed in on limiting the Hoosiers’ perimeter shots.
“We got to be a better three-point shooting and got to be a better free throw shooting team,” Miller said about his team’s shooting. “We stress a lot of that and have worked hard at that. To go to the line tonight I think 10-of-22 and 5-of-19 from three, I think sometimes the first game jitters are in there, but other times it’s like, we got to step up we got to be better.”
IU cannot be one-dimensional again this season if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. Conference opponents are going to try and limit the Hoosiers’ offense on the inside. If there is no threat on the outside to guard, then it is going to be a long season for IU.
Indiana did not shoot well at home when there were just family, team personnel, and family members in the stands. Distractions are going to be few this season with arenas not having fans screaming for 40 minutes. However, it is a long season so it will be interesting to see how the shooting problems evolve this season.
“This is the beginning of the year, but we got to make those,” Miller said. “That is going to be the difference in our team, if we want to be better.”
The road does not get any easier for Indiana.
The Hoosiers look to go 2-0 for the third consecutive season when they travel to Asheville, N.C. for the 2020 Maui Invitational. Indiana tips-off the second game of the tournament on Nov. 30 against Providence at 2:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2. The contest is IU’s first of the tourney as they play three games in three days next week.
“We got a lot of work to do over Thanksgiving and the next few days before we take off, but we are excited to be a part of that field and that tournament,” Miller said. “It is obviously the premiere event in college basketball at this time of year. Unfortunately, we are not in Maui, but I am sure the environment in Ashville will be good.”
Photo: Indiana University Athletics