Trayce Jackson-Davis had his hands full against Illinois on Saturday afternoon compared to their last meeting in January, but once again he proved that nobody can stop him in the Big Ten. The All-American big scored 26 points while overtaking his coach, Mike Woodson, in the all-time scoring list at No. 5 in Indiana history.
The senior forward from Greenwood, Indiana has been on a mission all season long and has delivered time and time again. In the past five outings, Jackson-Davis has scored 20 or more points in each game, putting his season average at 20.5 a game.
“They were clawing. They were without one of their best players, and those dudes showed a lot of heart here,” Jackson-Davis said postgame. “Just finding a way down the stretch and getting stops when we needed to, it was big for us.”
After announcing his return to the candy stripe pants in May of last year, Jackson-Davis has made it his goal to bring Indiana a Big Ten Championship and a national championship. During the 71-68 victory over the Fighting Illini, Indiana was recognized as a four seed by the Selection Committee with just four more games left this season.
Jackson-Davis has received criticism many times throughout his career at Indiana for his lack of 3-point and mid-range shooting, something that is very apparent in the NBA. While Jackson-Davis has only attempted three 3-point field goals his entire career, he has proven that he can be an elite player without needing to expand his game beyond the perimeter.
For Indiana this season it certainly hasn’t been pretty, but many times down the stretch IU has been able to make basketball-winning plays. Saturday afternoon’s victory over Illinois is one of many examples of how the Hoosiers have been able to win close affairs. It’s a much different team than last season.
“But we made the plays coming down the home stretch I thought that we needed to make in terms of getting stops,” Woodson said. “Jalen (Hood-Schifino)’s two big free throws, the jump shot he made, and then getting it out of that double-team right at the end there.”
Back in November, Indiana made big-time plays against Xavier down the stretch to get one of its best wins of the season thus far. Other examples include: 61-57 win over Minnesota, 79-74 victory against Purdue, 66-60 triumph over Rutgers and the 62-61 gritty win against Michigan. This season Indiana is 6-3 in games within 10 points. Last season the Hoosiers were 7-8.
Hood-Schifino did not have a great game all-around, but when it came down to the wire, the freshman phenom delivered with a mid-range jumper that tied the game. This was a game that battle-tested the young guard as well as the Hoosiers as a team. Indiana fought back after going down by nine late in the second half to take the lead. The Hoosiers led a total of seven minutes the entire game on Saturday.
“He's a freshman. Freshmen make mistakes,” Woodson said about Hood-Schifino’s play on Saturday. “I just look at the process of where he's come from and the fact when you lose your starting point guard in Xavier Johnson and you turn the ball over to a freshman to run your ballclub at a major program, that's huge. It's huge.”
Flashback to last season — whenever Illinois came into Bloomington, the Fighting Illini had their way against the Hoosiers winning, 74-57. Jackson-Davis was held to just six points in that game. Following Illinois’ victory, a picture from the visitor locker room was released showing an emphatic Brad Underwood with something written on the whiteboard behind him, it said, “Roadkill! Goodnight Indiana & Trayce.”
“Tonight, Jalen made plays, shooting a stupid number,” Woodson said. “It was crazy. But he still made plays down the stretch to help us win the game.”
Jackson-Davis has since bounced back in a huge way ever since that game last season. The National Player of the Year candidate has led the Hoosiers to now 10 wins in Big Ten play, the most wins since Indiana’s last Big Ten regular season title in 2016 during the Tom Crean era. With four games left in the season, it’s now or never for Indiana.
Next week will be a tough stretch for Indiana, to say the least. IU will travel to East Lansing on Tuesday and then turn around to play rival Purdue in West Lafayette on Saturday. The Hoosiers bested both teams at home in their last matchups, but as all Indiana fans know, this team can be very unpredictable on the road.