Indiana made a statement in the opening round of the 2020 Maui Invitational, but Race Thompson made a bigger one.
The junior forward outmuscled and outplayed the opposition down low in the post to lift Indiana to a dominant 79-58 win over Providence in a neutral site at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
Thompson led the team with 22 points, a career high, on an efficient shooting night, going 8-for-12 from the floor. He also provided 13 rebounds, another team high, to reach a double-double for the game.
His performance earned high praise from Indiana head coach Archie Miller.
“Monster effort from Race Thompson,” Miller said. “I am so happy for him. How he plays is how he practices every day.”
Despite Thompson being really good solely based on the numbers, his effort is what made Indiana’s win so dominant.
Without senior center Joey Brunk, Indiana had a severe height disadvantage compared to Providence. Indiana only played two players who were 6-foot-8 or taller in Thompson (6-foot-8), and Trayce Jackson-Davis who is 6-foot-9.
Providence’s starting lineup features Greg Gannt and their star Nate Watson, who are 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-10, respectively. While the size of those two evens out with Thompson and Jackson-Davis, Indiana had no bench relief to match that size throughout the game, or the three 6-foot-8 players Providence brings off the bench.
This lack of depth in the post required Thompson to raise his game to another level in order to handle the sheer size and toughness of the Friars.
“To beat a team like Providence you really had to answer the physicality of the game,” Miller said.
The physicality of Providence lends itself to do much of their scoring in the post. On Monday, the Friars had 45% of their points come from the paint and were only 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
Thompson’s stingy defense, along with help from Jackson-Davis, took away Providence’s most lethal weapon in their post game as they limited anything that Watson and Gantt could do.
Gantt, Thompson’s main assignment, finished with just five points. Watson, who had 23 points last week against Fairfield, only had 12 points on a 4-for-11 shooting day.
Not only did Thompson hold his own defensively, but he was an absolute force on the offensive side of the ball.
“We ended up holding serve on the boards, and a big reason why was the upper level from Race,” Miller said.
Of Thompson’s 13 total rebounds, eight were off the offensive glass. These boards gave way to extra chance opportunities for Indiana to score it and cut Providence’s time of possession. Indiana had 17 second-chance points for the game which made up 22% of the team’s total scoring.
More than just the opportunities created for others by Thompson’s efforts on the glass, the junior had an excellent day scoring the ball, in a variety of ways.
Thompson had plenty of his typical scoring around the rim, but he also proved to be efficient all around the floor. He hit two baseline, midrange jumpers while nailing a floater in the paint Monday. He also took advantage of the charity stripe, making six of his 10 free throws.
Thompson’s scoring ability outside the paint gives Indiana another dimension of versatility on offense and shows how far Thompson has come in his improvement as a player.
“He’s a very motivated player,” Miller said of Thompson. “He used his offseason as well as any player I’ve been around.”
The expansion of Thompson’s game’s benefit is two-fold. Not only does it help Indiana score with more ease and stretch the floor more, but it also forces opposing defenses to focus on both him and Jackson-Davis, allowing each player to have more open looks when they’re on the floor together.
This proved to be true against Providence as Jackson-Davis and Thompson had a number of plays where they moved the ball well between each other to have the other get an open look.
Thompson’s growth and physicality surfacing now is an ideal time for Indiana as it not only helped the Hoosiers take care of Providence, but it might be even more crucial for their matchup Tuesday with No. 17 Texas in the second round of the event. Texas is an even bigger team size-wise compared to the Friars.