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Race Thompson, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana’s stifling defense

In the first half Indiana held Louisiana to 11.8 percent from the field on 4-for-34 shooting. It was clear the Hoosiers defense was too much for the Ragin Cajuns to handle from the get-go in an eventual 76-44 win.

Louisiana’s 14 first-half points ties the fewest the Hoosiers have given up since March 2, 2013, against Iowa. 

The game ended with Indiana holding Louisiana to 14-for-73, or 19.2 percent, from the field. The Ragin Cajuns shot 2-for-20 from beyond the arc as well. This quick, energized and swarming start from Indiana on the defensive end has been around for the first four games of the season. 

Opponents’ first-half percentages: 

11/9- vs Eastern Michigan: 22.58 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3

11/12- vs Northern Illinois: 23.81 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3

11/17- vs St. John’s: 33.33 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3 

11/21- vs Louisiana: 11.8 percent from the field and 10 percent from 3

Out of Indiana’s first four opponents, no team has matched IU’s early defensive energy. Now, given the small sample size, where did all of this come from? From a team that held opponents to an average of 43 percent from the field last season? 

That answer isn’t as simple as it sounds. There’s not one addition or new player making a significant difference, but it’s safe to argue that Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis have made the greatest defensive improvements, not any of the new additions. 

In just four games this season, preseason All-American Jackson-Davis has totaled 14 blocks, half of which he had in one game against Northern Illinois. That’s pace for an outstanding 108.5, excluding postseason play. That’s Big Ten defensive player of the year numbers. That’s also 49.5 blocks higher than his season high of 59 which he had his freshman year. 

This season TJD’s motor, pace of play and timing have been unmatched. For a guy with his athleticism his defensive abilities are just now getting tapped into. It’s been clear that any big man he’s faced this season has been no match. 

Jackson-Davis has gotten better at hedging on screens and moving his feet quickly on the perimeter making it tough for a quick guard to blow by him. 

As for Race Thompson, he seems a lot more comfortable in transition and out on the perimeter as well. He’s not an incredible shot blocker but he did average 1.3 a game last year. He surely can go up and get it. 

For Thompson, the improvements can be seen down on the low block denying the ball and in transition defense. The improvements of Thompson’s feet have been translated to the offensive end of the ball. He looks so much more comfortable in back-to-the-basket post situations. He loves to go to a quick drop step coupled with a spin move for a turnaround hook shot or if his defender lunges an easy lay-in with either hand. The junior also has a knack for diving and going after loose balls. 

Race Thompson dives after a loose ball against Louisiana. (Ryan Lo/HN)

The improved interior defense has echoed across the board for the entire team but the energy and attitudes of forwards Tamar Bates and Jordan Geronimo have been pest-like on the defensive side and jumping at almost every loose ball. 

Down the stretch in Big Ten play, against some of the best big men in the country, the defensive improvements of Thompson and TJD will be on full display. They will have to be. 

That defensive effort and energy was on full display in the win over Louisiana on Sunday night. While it may have been a tough shooting night for ULL overall, it was Indiana who was intense out of the gate.

The big question is if Indiana can keep that going for a full 40 minutes as the St. John’s and Eastern Michigan games were examples of why starting the second half well is so important. 

In both of those games Indiana went into the locker room with a 10-plus point lead and were challenged with a scoring run from the opposing squad early in the second half. On Sunday night, granted they were playing Louisiana, they didn’t budge.

Indiana’s defensive intensity has echoed and improved from last season, the early results are in. But how much will this translate to Big Ten play? Only time will tell but for now the Hoosiers are rolling, fun and confident.

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