INDIANAPOLIS — In the final Crossroads Classic, Indiana emerged victorious 64-56 over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. IU improves to 9-2 on the season after picking up its eighth win in 11 tries, the most by any team in the Classic.
Down by as many as nine with seven minutes to play in the first half, IU looked to its man in the middle to settle things down. Struggling to create clean looks in the half-court meant that post ups for Trayce Jackson-Davis were Indiana’s best chance at creating offense. This proved to be true with Jackson-Davis making his presence felt on both ends of the floor.
Jackson-Davis finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes of action.
In the postgame press conference, head coach Mike Woodson detailed his demands to get the ball inside to the All-American.
“Our strength is playing inside-out with our big guys…and I don’t really want to stray away from that,” Woodson said.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey called the decision on when to double team Jackson-Davis a “dilemma” because of IU’s new threats on the perimeter.
IU was not firing on all cylinders by any means, but the new wrinkle of having personnel who can hit 3-pointers led to its eventual double-digit lead.
With 12 minutes to play in the second half, IU accumulated a 10-point lead. Subsequently, Notre Dame answered with a 11-1 run to tie the game at 46.
It almost looked like the second half against Wisconsin was producing a sequel. However, this time Woodson referenced his team’s polar opposite performance down the stretch.
“That’s the first thing I said when I closed out our meeting with the team… our guys stepped up and made the plays they needed to make to win the game,” Woodson said.
Although that was certainly the case, Indiana played far from perfect, committing 14 turnovers. The team is averaging 16 a game which is tied with Illinois for the most in the Big Ten. It’s a glaring issue the Hoosiers have to clean up if they are ever going to keep teams at bay and maintain leads.
While the lack of direction and sloppiness on offense were concerning for IU, there were bright spots that can’t be glossed over.
The play of Rob Phinisee, while his shooting percentage might not show it, had his most effective game of the season. He scored six on two made 3-pointers, collected five rebounds and had a team-high five assists. His passing was excellent, specifically on lob passes to Jackson-Davis resulting in either field goals or free throws. The biggest make from the perimeter came from Phinisee with under five minutes to play and could be a sign of things to come for a player who hasn’t been healthy all year.
When asked about Phinisee’s role with the team Woodson had glowing things to say about the longtime Hoosier.
“I need Rob in the worst way,” Woodson said. “I think he knows how I feel about him… he can make plays for other people. That’s what point guards do.”
His contribution was that much more important due to the absence of Tamar Bates. No Bates meant that IU would search to replace his playmaking ability.
More playmaking came from an unlikely source for IU. Sophomore Anthony Leal played 16 minutes, didn’t score but moved the ball extremely well and has grown extensively on the defensive end.
Fellow sharpshooter Parker Stewart has been a revelation and continues to shoot the lights out from 3-point range. At 49 percent from outside, there’s no reason this team can’t look for more opportunities for its best shooter.
Indiana continues to lean on its defense and do just enough on offense to squeak out victories. There’s still a lot to clean up but even more to look forward to in the coming months.