BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana basketball debut in a pandemic was fan-missing, depth-showcased and transition game on.
On Wednesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers dominated Tennessee Tech 89-59 to set the stage for intriguing possibilities, starting next week in the Maui Invitational (now in Asheville, N.C. because of the pandemic).
“It was good to get this out of the way,” coach Archie Miller said. “We’ll take on a Maui field that is really talented. We have a lot of work to do. We’re excited to part of this premiere event.”
How good was IU on Wednesday?
Let’s count the ways.
There was forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, a preseason All-America struggling to find his early shooting touch (1-for-6).
Hint: He found it.
Jackson-Davis made nine of his last 10 shots en route to a double-double (26 points, 11 rebounds).
“He’s such an important part of what we’re doing,” Miller said. “Maybe he was a little nervous and rusty at the start. He settled down.
“We did a good job of getting him the ball inside. Once he got started, he was himself. ”
Then Miller kicked in the coaching point.
“To be one of the best, he has to make things happen without anybody’s help.
“With offensive rebounding, blocking shots, defending the ball screen, he gives you an anchor.”
How about swingman Jerome Hunter’s all-around game (nine points, three assists and two steals).
Lander scored seconds after entering the game, then settled into a reserve role for five points, two assists and a steal in 14 minutes.
“He did a good job,” Miller said. “He played within himself. He looked to shoot it right when he got in. That’s what you want to see from a young guy.
“He’s got a long way to go, but he’s going to be a good one.”
Trey Galloway was the first freshman to see action, coming in after the first TV timeout four minutes into the game.
Let’s just say IU’s transition game perfectly fits Galloway, a former Indiana high school all-state performer from Culver Academies whom Miller said is IU’s best attack-the-basket player. He showed it with nine first-half points on 4-for-4 shooting. He finished with 13 points (on 6-for-9 shooting), two rebounds and two assists.
“It was the older guys picking me up in practice and getting me through it,” Galloway said. “Follow their leadership and try to stay ready.”
Added Miller: “He got in transition and made good plays. He can finish. He’s good in the open floor.
“He has to be better on the boards. He has to find a way to get more involved in the rebounding game.
“I want him to rebound better. He’s one of the best we have in transition. You’ll see more of that.”
There was no senior center Joey Brunk, out with a sore back. Miller said the Hoosiers were “being careful due to the wear and tear he’s had.”
Brunk has practiced, and likely will be ready for next week’s Maui Invitational.
Junior forward Race Thompson replaced him.
“He’ll be day by day,” Miller said. “He was full blast. Then he got a little sore. With three games in three days coming up, this was not the night we needed to rush him back. He could have played. We plan on having him this week.”
By halftime, 10 Hoosiers had played at least four minutes and eight had scored. Several times all four freshmen were on the court.
“We weren’t planning on doing that,” Miller said, “but we were able to get a big lead.
“All the guys working hard. They’re all trying to learn. You’ll see that they all will contribute and be important pieces on this team. We’ll need all those guys.”
This was a debut fueled by last spring’s disappointment (an almost certain NCAA tourney berth ruined by the pandemic) and a desire to prove championship-caliber potential.
While it wasn’t flawless – 10-for-22 free-throw shooting, not enough rebounding (only a 36-33 edge) and 5-for-19 three-point struggles — it helped rip away the rust from the eight-month break break.
“We needed to get this out of the way,” Miller said.
As for the shooting struggles, “We have to be better. We spend a ton a time on it. Guys have got to make them. That will be the difference in our team if we want to be better.”
The same is true with rebounding.
“We’re a small perimeter team without Joey,” Miller said. “My biggest concern is, can we rebound?”
In theory, this is Miller’s deepest team, but only games will prove it. Tennessee Tech was the first step. Three others in three days in the Maui Invitational will provide a bigger challenge.
“That’s putting all of our feet to the fire to test our rotation and see how deep we really are,” Miller said.
No IU guard was better leading up to Wednesday night’s opener than senior Al Durham.
“He’s our best shooter,” Miller said.
Durham didn’t show it against Tennessee Tech (4-for-9), emphasizing a facilitator role with nine points, six rebounds and four assists. His steal and drive-the-floor layup late in the second half showed his impact.
Phinisee is basically injury free and as consistent as he’s ever been. Franklin is 14 to 15 pounds heavier, which is why Miller calls him a, “bigger and better Armaan.”
He started on Wednesday and added two rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Those veterans are charged with ensuring Lander, Galloway and fellow freshmen Anthony Leal and Jordan Geronimo (making up a top-15 national recruiting class) are dialed in defensively, and everywhere else.
“Be mindful of those guys,” were Miller’s pre-game instructions to his veterans.
In this most unique of seasons, early rankings have no relevance. IU’s lack of top-25 standing (it is No. 26 in the highly regarded Kenpom rankings) can’t diminish this reality — bright prospects center on assist-to-turnover ratio.
“There’s nothing more important than taking care of the ball,” Miller said.
IU totaled 22 assists against eight turnovers, and if Tennessee Tech’s defense reminds no one of, say, Michigan State, that misses the point.
“(The guards) have to be high-assist guys and very low turnovers,” Miller said. “If they are, we have a chance to be pretty good.”
IU was good against a Tennessee Tech team missing head coach John Pelphrey because of Covid-19. Assistant coach Marcus King replaced him.
Golden Knights players were tested Tuesday and Wednesday, and received the all-clear go ahead.
With or without its coach, Tennessee Tech faced a steep challenge. It was coming off a 9-22 season, and while Pelphrey had rebuilt the roster, plenty of work remained.
Indiana, meanwhile, opened erratically. It jumped ahead 10-4, but missed three free throws. Tennessee Tech rallied for a 13-12 lead.
Then Hunter hit a three-pointer, Lander scored, and Galloway drove for a layup and converted the three-point play.
The Hoosiers led 20-13 at the 11:47 mark, but didn’t take control until a Phinisee three-pointer and three straight Jackson-Davis layups ignited a 20-0 run.
By halftime, IU led 48-16 and the rout was on.
Next up, Asheville, which means a big dose of Jackson-Davis.
“When the lights are the brightest,” Miller said, “that’s when Trayce gears it up. He’ll need to be terrific for us in Asheville.”
Courtesy of IUHoosiers.com