EVANSTON, Ill. — No. 14 Indiana had recovered from being behind 21 points. A Miller Kopp steal landed in the arms of Trayce Jackson-Davis, who scooped the ball up and laid it in.
Tie game, 62-62.
Northwestern trounced back down the court, with head coach Chris Collins opting not to call a timeout. Wildcats guard Boo Buie cleared out the court and decided to isolate in the middle of the floor against Trey Galloway.
Buie faked left, crossed right, gave Galloway a (controversial) nudge and floated the ball into the hoop with 2.7 left on the clock. A halfcourt heave from Jalen Hood-Schifino fell short, and the Wildcats won their fourth straight game, including back-to-back victories over the only two ranked teams in the Big Ten (Purdue being the other).
Here are my takeaways from Indiana’s 2-point loss in Evanston on Wednesday.
Indiana showed resilience
Five of Indiana’s eight losses have been by 10 or more points this season. When the Hoosiers got down 39-18 in the final minute of the first half, most viewers expected the thrashing to continue. But the Hoosiers showed life, and Jackson-Davis’ bucket with 28 seconds left was the first time they were tied or ahead since there was 12:38 left in the first half.
Trailing 39-20 at halftime, Indiana produced 42 second-half points. IU went 3-for-6 on 3s while also scoring 22 points in the paint in the second period. Four players — Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, Hood-Schifino and Galloway — scored five or more points in the half.
While the result was disappointing, this is probably a game that Indiana would’ve lost by 15 or more points two months ago. Indiana’s road struggles haven’t vanished, but this team has shown the ability to come together and go on runs that change games.
Trayce Jackson-Davis gave a heroic effort
Northwestern blanketed Jackson-Davis in the first 20 minutes of this game. It gave hard double teams toward him, and the Hoosiers failed to create quality looks offensively. Jackson-Davis had five points and only three field-goal attempts in the first half.
The second half began with three Jackson-Davis assists, leading to Indiana’s first seven points of the half. From there, Northwestern feared his scoring and passing, which led to a terrific second half for IU’s star. Jackson-Davis had 18 points, four rebounds and six assists in the second half alone.
Whether it was finishing plays, scoring in the post or looking off defenders to find the open man, Jackson-Davis delivered key play after key play to give Indiana a shot to win the game.
Jackson-Davis’ connection with Thompson appeared to be in full effect as well. Thompson, who missed IU’s last game at Michigan for precautionary reasons, had 13 points. Jackson-Davis assisted on all four of Thompson’s made field goals. Thompson, the sixth-year senior, has battled a leg injury since the beginning of January. It has been a rocky year for Thompson, and Indiana needs him to return to his old self as the season intensifies.
Thompson and Jackson-Davis appeared to be cliquing together again. Jackson-Davis continued his phenomenal stretch of play, finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. The Hoosiers will always be in games like this as long as Jackson-Davis performs at this high a level.
Quick guards continue to be Indiana’s kryptonite
For the second time this season, Buie torched the Hoosiers. Buie followed up a 26-point performance against IU in January with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists on Wednesday.
Buie refused to let Indiana steal a win from Northwestern in this game. He scored six of the Wildcats’ final eight points (and assisted on the other two).
Buie is not much of a shooting threat, but he is an incredible downhill attacker, which Indiana has struggled against. The Northwestern senior is shooting 52.5% in 2-point range in conference play and was 6-for-8 on 2s against the Hoosiers on Wednesday. No IU guard could stay in front of Buie.
This is not the only shifty guard that has exposed Indiana’s defense lately. Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin had 14 points against Indiana on Saturday, and the Hoosiers didn’t figure him out until the very end of the game they held on to win 62-61. Maryland’s Jahmir Young sliced and diced IU’s defense all night on Jan. 31 in a 66-55 Maryland victory.
Indiana is missing its best perimeter defender, Xavier Johnson, who has been out since Dec. 17 with a foot injury. Johnson could return soon, but the Hoosiers must figure out how to contain speedy ball handlers with or without him.
Small, swift guards continue to penetrate IU’s defense, which puts the whole team out of rotation. Indiana should repair this issue before it becomes the team’s fatal flaw.