For a while, it looked like the tryptophan may have hit Indiana before their turkey meal. The Hoosiers eventually woke up and avoided a Thanksgiving week upset.
Senior captain Race Thompson scored 20 points, 16 of which came after the break, to lead No. 11 Indiana (5-0) to a 87-68 win over Little Rock (2-4). Xavier Johnson complemented Thompson’s performance with 10 assists, tying his Indiana record.
Back in Assembly Hall for the first time since Nov. 10, Mike Woodson started Johnson, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Miller Kopp, Thomspon, and Malik Reneau. Before the game, IU ruled out preseason All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis and Trey Galloway for precautionary reasons. Anthony Leal missed the contest with an ankle injury as well.
This opened up an opportunity for Reneau, and he capitalized in the early going. Reneau scored six of IU’s first 10 points. Thompson, one of IU’s captains this season, scored the other four, as the Hoosiers asserted their dominance in the paint.
Little Rock bothered Indiana with their up-tempo style of play. The Trojans, coached by former NBA champion Darrell Walker, came into the game with the 43rd-fastest adjusted tempo in the country, per KenPom, and it showed.
DJ Smith converted a fastbreak layup to bring Little Rock within 16-9. Then, DeAntoni Gordon and Myron Gardner found openings to cut the deficit to six. After a three from Jordan Jefferson, Little Rock trailed IU by just five points.
During this early portions of the first half, Indiana suffered two additional injuries that led to starters exiting the game. Reneau fell on his lower back going for a steal, and he headed into the locker room with athletic trainer Tim Garl for treatment. Thompson was struck in the face with an inadvertent elbow going for a rebound, which opened up a cut in his facial area. Both players would eventually return.
IU’s bench picked up the slack during Reneau’s and Thompson’s absence. CJ Gunn, Logan Duncomb, Jordan Geronimo, and Kaleb Banks all provided effective energy to help open up a 15-point advantage.
Geronimo scored six points in the first half, and he made all three field goal attempts. Duncomb scored inside to get on the board, and then he threw down a dunk for his 4th point of the night. Gunn contributed with a basket and a blocked shot. The Assembly Hall crowd offered warm applause when Woodson substituted the starters back into the game.
Those cheers quickly turned into groans as the Trojans fought back into the contest. Gordon converted a layup, then Smith nailed consecutive threes to trim the margin to seven points. Little Rock would stay with arm’s reach.
Things didn’t improve much after halftime. Indiana and Little Rock traded baskets before Miller Kopp took matters into his own hands. Kopp, who went score listen the first half, nailed three three-pointers to push IU’s lead back into comfortable territory. Kopp is now 12/23 (52%) from three this season.
Once the Trojans had to respect the long-distance shot, Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson found opportunities inside the arc to do damage. Thompson, sporting a headband after the elbow to the face, took advantage of gaps in the Little Rock defense, one of the worst in the country per KenPom.
The Trojans’ pace perhaps led to some fatigue down the stretch as Indiana started to pull away. IU’s depth played a critical role as well. The Hoosiers were in the bonus with 14:08 left, and IU achieved double bonus status with 12:09 to go.
Once the Hoosiers went to the free throw line, they converted. Johnson and Tamar Bates each made both of their second half free throws, while Thompson nailed all six of his free throw attempts after the break.
Thompson’s 20 points represent the second-highest total in his career, behind the 22 he scored against Providence as part of the Maui Invitational in Asheville, NC, in 2020.
IU’s next regular season game is Friday vs. Jackson St., back in Assembly Hall. It’s a quick turnaround, with game time scheduled for 12:30p ET on BTN.
Featured Image: Doug McSchooler / Associated Press