Where to begin...
After 50 minutes of war on the hardwood in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse outlasted Indiana 112-110 on Tuesday night. This game was an instant classic and arguably the most entertaining game of the early college hoops season.
Having not yet tasted defeat, Indiana was determined to make an impression against its toughest opponent to date.
Down 16 at the break and 18 early in the second half, the outlook was bleak for Indiana. Thirteen first-half turnovers were front and center for the Hoosiers. The turnovers would remain a disturbing trend for Indiana as they finished with a season-high 26. I think many of you will agree, if that number is just cut in half we would be talking about an undefeated Indiana team heading into conference play.
Head coach Mike Woodson called the unforced errors in the first half "ridiculous" as they are a clear deficiency for an otherwise skilled group of players. Those issues combined with the stellar play of the Boeheim brothers left Indiana searching for answers at the half.
The zone was causing all sorts of problems for Indiana in the first half. A 2-3 zone eliminates all one-on-one matchups and can bait teams into hoisting up three point jumpers. The Orange executed the zone effectively to start the game. They forced IU's forwards to become decision makers inside, leading to a litany of early turnovers. Also, IU did itself no favors by missing plenty of open 3s to start.
As the Hoosiers held on for dear life, Parker Stewart brought them back from the dead, igniting the offense with four 3-pointers in a matter of minutes. That 12-1 run gave the Hoosiers the momentum needed to keep up with the Orange. IU exploded for 55 second-half points and finally began dissecting Syracuse's 2-3 defensive zone.
The adjustments made by Woodson and his players showed the difference in this year's Indiana team compared to those from years past. IU began to find the soft spots in the zone leading to easy shots for Race Thompson, who also found open shooters when his looks were not there. Thompson may have had the ball in his hands more than any game this season, playing a career-high 44 minutes with eight assists but also seven turnovers.
Without the added elements of Stewart and Miller Kopp stretching the floor, Indiana would have no chance to win high scoring affairs like Tuesday night’s game. Both Stewart and Kopp picked ideal times to have their best games as Hoosiers. Stewart finished with 20 points, featuring six makes from 3, while Kopp had a career-high 28 points and showed he can do more than just spot up.
In fact, this matchup featured six players finish with 20 points or better. The last time a box score has featured numbers like that was back in 2009 when Syracuse played six overtimes against UConn.
While those numbers are impressive, I think I've waited to long enough to discuss the heroics of Trayce Jackson-Davis. Fresh off his honor of being named National Player of the Week, Jackson-Davis rose and shined again.
With around four minutes left in the second half, Jackson-Davis fell to the floor after banging knees with a defender. He grimaced in pain and the entire city of Bloomington held its breath. After icing the sore knee over on the bench, Jackson-Davis remarkably returned to the court, reinvigorated for the final minutes of regulation and overtime.
Jackson-Davis has shown more emotion in the past two games than ever before. He's playing like a man who has completely bought into what Woodson is selling. Every time he enters the huddle he implores his teammates to give everything they've got on each possession. That passion is exactly what Jackson-Davis displayed in the latter stages of the contest.
After the contact to his knee, Jackson-Davis scored 13 points in the final two minutes of regulation and both overtime periods. Finishing with 31 points and 16 rebounds, Jackson-Davis turned in another All-American effort. He even shot 9-for-14 from the free-throw line, including two shots to tie with less than a second remaining.
Under Woodson, every player is showing improvement and buy-in for a program that has been re-energized. Indiana may have left the Carrier Dome with a loss, but the Hoosiers showed the country this group will never lay down.
This team continues to shows signs of evolving into a group that can win consistently. Conference play presents a new threat but something tells me these Hoosiers will be ready.
IU heads home to play Nebraska and open up Big Ten play in a winnable game on Saturday.
Mike Woodson has Indiana re-energized and it shows in double-OT loss to Syracuse
Where to begin...