CHICAGO — Indiana’s defense has not always been what it was supposed to be this season. The Hoosiers were favored to win the Big Ten in the preseason, largely because of the defensive infrastructure they built in Mike Woodson’s first season as head coach.
The Hoosiers haven’t defended at that same level this season. Instead, offense has been the catalyst for IU’s success. The Hoosiers, with stellar play from Trayce Jackson-Davis and the addition of freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino, have won games by outscoring teams.
In Indiana’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Maryland on Friday, the team returned to its defensive background. The Hoosiers defeated the Terrapins 70-60 to advance to play Penn State in the semifinals on Saturday.
IU’s defense came to play. When Maryland beat Indiana 66-55 on Jan. 31, its leading scorer Jahmir Young logged 20 points. Friday, Young was held to 12 points while sinking just three of his 15 field goals.
“Guards did a really good job setting stuff up,” Jackson-Davis said. “We were trying to get them away from the baseline. We wanted everything middle, sending everything back middle, and I thought we did a really good job on that.”
Young drove to the hoop repeatedly with little resistance in the first meeting between these teams. None of Indiana’s defenders could stay in front of him, and it led to a big night. The Hoosiers resisted more often against Young this time around.
“I thought we did a nice job of keeping him in front of us,” Woodson said. “I thought, when we played them out in Maryland, they had their way getting downhill against our ball club, and I thought we were a lot better in that department.”
This same Indiana team surrendered 90 points at home to Iowa 11 days ago. Iowa got whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, in Assembly Hall last week. Both levels of the Hoosiers’ defense — the perimeter and interior — were shut off for Maryland. Jackson-Davis blocked four shots on Friday, and Hood-Schifino swatted another three.
Maryland led 34-32 at halftime. Indiana wasn’t defending poorly, but there was another level to be reached. In the second half, the Terrapins were limited to 26 points while shooting 8-for-32 (25%) from the field. Maryland was 11-for-38 (28.9%) on 2-pointers, its worst percentage in 33 games this season.
“Our switching was right on par, and we were able, like Trayce said, we were able to keep people in front of us,” Woodson said.
Friday’s defensive performance resembled what Indiana did in Woodson’s first season at the helm. Maryland looked flustered throughout the game and never quite figured out how to score on IU.
While Indiana’s defense was spectacular, its offense performed well too, thanks to quality performances from its stars. Jackson-Davis had 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Hood-Schifino added 19 points of his own after scoring only three points against Maryland the first time around.
The Hoosiers’ supplemental pieces also loomed large on Friday. Miller Kopp had 10 points. Freshman Malik Reneau scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Tamar Bates only had five points, but both of his buckets came at crucial points to shift momentum toward Indiana.
“It was a total team effort, and we're going to need that as we continue this journey,” Woodson said.
Indiana avenged its loss to a Maryland squad it only played once in the regular season. IU will have a chance to do the same against Penn State on Saturday.
Penn State embarrassed IU in an 85-66 drubbing in State College on Jan. 11. The Nittany Lions canned 18 3s against the Hoosiers, which tied a season-high.
Penn State had one of the top offenses in the Big Ten this season, so Indiana must defend well again. The Nittany Lions take and make more 3s than anyone in the conference, averaging 10.6 makes a game on 38.8% shooting.
Penn State entered the tournament as the No. 10 seed in the conference. After a 79-76 victory over Illinois on Thursday, Penn State defeated Northwestern 67-65 in overtime Friday.
“We know what we need to do in order to be in the game,” Jackson-Davis said about facing Penn State again. “We've just got to be able to guard the 3-point line and stay in front of them on drives.”
Indiana has a quick turnaround, with Saturday’s game set to tip off at 3:30 p.m. EST. With a win, IU would advance to its first Big Ten championship game since 2001. IU has never won the tournament since it began in 1998.
If the Hoosiers guard Penn State as well as they defended Maryland, they could be in good shape to finally return to the Big Ten tournament championship.