BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Like many of his contemporaries, Trayce Jackson-Davis could have taken off for the NBA after his freshman season.
Someone would have given him a chance. After all, which pro team would forgo selecting a high-scoring, shot-blocking, 6-foot-9 forward with incredible potential? At the same time, Jackson-Davis would have been paid for playing the game he’s loved while growing up in the state of Indiana, as well as enjoy the glitz and the glamour of life in the world’s most elite basketball league.
Nights like this are why Jackson-Davis returned to Bloomington. In a game his team needed to win to even up their conference record in the ruthless Big Ten, Indiana’s star sophomore fought through adversity, overcame an injury, and put up 22 points and 15 rebounds, as IU (7-4, 2-2 B1G) erased a 10-point second half to deficit to knock off the Maryland Terrapins (6-5, 1-4 B1G), 63-55. For more than 20 minutes on Monday night, it didn’t look like Jackson-Davis and Indiana were going to have their way.
The first half was hard to watch. Jackson-Davis was far from the sole reason IU trailed by six at the break, but his 2-for-9 shooting performance had plenty of Hoosier faithful, and the team’s head coach, frustrated. “I didn’t think he could have played any weaker around the rim in the first half,” Archie Miller said. As a team, IU made just nine shots in 30 tries (30%). Entering tonight, Maryland ranked #90 in defensive efficiency per KenPom. 21 points was unacceptable.
Then, the proverbial flip switched. “In the second half, we were a much different team. We were much more physical around the basket, starting with Trayce. We were much more physical on the offensive glass,” Miller said. Jackson-Davis snagged four offensive rebounds in the contest, all of which came after halftime. He averaged 2.7 coming in, and had recorded one or zero in three of IU’s last four games.
Jackson-Davis grabbed nine second-half rebounds and 15 in the game, two short of his career-high. “Coach says that if you get the most rebounds in the game, you win the game,” fellow forward Race Thompson said. This season, Indiana is now 5-1 when outrebounding its opponent.
Other than his dominance on the boards, Jackson-Davis stood out on two other occasions. Less than a minute after IU took its first lead since holding a 4-3 advantage, Jackson-Davis poked the ball away, grabbed the orange, and sprinted down the court for a violent one-handed throw-down. It not only put two points on the board and gave Indiana its largest lead, but it also gave his team a badly-needed jolt of energy.
The second moment came on a foul from Galin Smith with 5:07 left, when Jackson-Davis banged knees with the Terps big man. He yelped in pain and had a limp in his gait, but wouldn’t exit the game. “I was just trying to help my teammates get this win. I said I am good do not take me out,” Jackson-Davis said. He made both free throws, the wince turned into a smile, and he wouldn’t leave the contest until IU secured the victory.
“Jackson-Davis took over the game on the offensive end,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in his opening statement after IU’s eight-point win. “We just were not physical enough on our box outs in the game, and he just took over that way.” Jackson-Davis has the ability to dominate the game in multiple ways. He’s durable, having played at least 28 minutes every game. He’s taken the wheel offensively, taking at least eight shots in every contest. He’s scored as many as 31 points (Stanford), secured 17 rebounds (at Florida St.), and even blocked five shots (Butler).
In a season full of twists and turns, and in a league where not a single win is guaranteed, Jackson-Davis is Indiana’s pillar. His teammates, coaches, and all of Hoosier Nation rely on his play. With strong performances like he had on Monday, Jackson-Davis will lead Indiana to plenty more wins. He’ll also find himself on an NBA court sooner, rather than later.
Featured Photo: Christian Daniels / Indiana University Athletics