It wasn’t until late in the second half that the No. 11 men’s basketball team from Indiana gave their all against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The Hoosiers’ lead dropped to seven points in the second half, although they were never behind in the game. From there, Indiana accelerated to an 87-68 win Wednesday thanks to seniors Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson.
“We let that get a little bit out of hand when it comes to keeping our opponents at 60 (points) and under, but we won by 19,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “We overtook the team. We guarded the 3-point line. They didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line or the two. I am happy. I can’t sit here tonight and complain about anything.”
After elder forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was out of the game as a precaution, Indiana turned to freshman forward Malik Reneau and Thompson to replace them. But both players spent brief stints in the dressing room after injuries: Reneau fell heavily on his tailbone and spent time icing his lower back, and Thompson caught an elbow in the forehead, which bled.
The combination of injuries meant Woodson delved deeper into his bench. Eight players played double-digit minutes and every 10 Hoosiers who appeared added at least one point.
“I said next man — that’s what this team has to be about,” Woodson said. “As a coach, I always cared about that. I’ve coached games where my best players weren’t in the line-up. I can’t wait for these guys. I still have to train and get the guys to play and play at a high level.
All five starters scored at least 9 points for Indiana and the team had 18 assists, the second-highest total of the season. Junior forward Jordan Geronimo added 11 points and five blocks from the bench, and second guard Tamar Bates added 8 points.
But it was Thompson, who returned with a white headband, that carried the load for the Hoosiers in the second half.
Thompson’s 20 points, 8 rebounds and infectious energy guided Indiana, especially in the second half where he scored 16 of his points. Thompson benefited from the touch from Johnson, who assisted on some of Thompson’s dunks.
“I think me and X, we became friends like a little ball screen thing,” Thompson said. “You see Trayce and X do all the time, but if you get X or (rookie guard Jalen Hood-Schifino) on a ball screen and put up a good screen, you’re going to make a difference. They will make the game for you.”
Indiana’s second-half boost also came from Johnson, who ended the night a point behind a double-double. Seven of Johnson’s 9 points and eight of his 10 assists came after the break, and he pushed the pace for Indiana all evening.
“He was solid when things didn’t go well for him early on,” Woodson said. “He’s just started getting everyone else involved and doing basketball games, which is what he’s capable of. We all benefited from that.”
Older forward Miller Kopp continued his hot hand from beyond the arc, shooting 3-for-6 from 3-point range and ending the night on 9 points. When the Hoosiers’ offense struggled midway through the second half, Kopp’s shot helped Indiana find its groove again. Kopp hit consecutive 3-pointers, the first of which completed a small 6-point run. The results helped Indiana extend their lead to 15 points.
“Miller was at the back end where he was wide open for a lot of threes in the transition and he made a few tonight which is huge for our team,” Woodson said.
While Indiana’s competition hasn’t been as strong as the defense it will face on the line in both nonconference and Big Ten games, Kopp has shown significant improvement in his shooting in five games this season. After shooting 36% a year ago, he’s 12-23 this season.
The Hoosiers now look forward to Friday when they welcome the Jacksonville State University Tigers to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at 12:30 p.m. Woodson said the team will evaluate whether Jackson-Davis will return before the game.
Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.