CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — You just couldn’t take your eyes off Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and the show he was hosting in Illinois on Thursday.
The only party that seemed to disagree was the Illinois coaching staff, who opted not to double the Hoosiers’ star.
It was a decision that made Jackson-Davis of the Fighting Illini regret. His 35-point performance made for an 80-65 road win for the Hoosiers at State Farm Center.
Indiana, starting 4-1 in the Big Ten game, won its second straight game to get its conference campaign back on track. The Hoosiers (12-6, 3-4 Big Ten) also broke Illinois’ four-game winning streak.
Jackson-Davis was 15 of 19 out of the field and led a performance in Indiana where the Hoosiers shot 61.8% overall. It was the Hoosiers’ fourth-highest odds in a Big Ten game since 2001, according to Indiana Sports Information.
Jackson-Davis added nine rebounds and five assists in a bravura performance. His 35 points was his career high in a Big Ten game and his second-highest career total.
“The biggest thing for me is to keep getting healthier. This week was the first time I’ve practiced in a month and a half,” Jackson-Davis said. “My teammates put me in a position to score and then they didn’t send the double and I had to make them pay.”
Indiana’s coach Mike Woodson, who once scored 48 points in the same building, appreciated how Jackson-Davis took the bull by the horns.
“I played against him for many minutes and played against him the whole first half. We rode him,” Woodson said. “They didn’t use him on doubles and every timeout I said ‘doubles might come’ and we had to adjust our offense accordingly but it never came and he made great plays around the rim.”
Much in the Jackson-Davis cause’s favor was Illinois’ decision not to double-man Indiana center, a rarity for Jackson-Davis. Free to move around the Illinois cabin, Jackson-Davis ravaged Illini defenders, particularly Illinois big man Dain Dainja.
Jackson-Davis wasn’t at the post office. Many of his best moves came with him starting at the top of the button. He either beat Dainja and others out of dribbling or cut to the basket where he was found by teammates.
Was Jackson-Davis surprised the doubles team never came?
“The coach told me before the game that they probably wouldn’t start doubling. So I just had to go play and I did. Then they never aired it,” Jackson-Davis noted. “Sometimes they got a bit crowded and I kicked it or sent it to JG (Jordan Geronimo). Most of the night they let me crawl dribbling in the middle. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It wasn’t just Jackson-Davis who shone. Forward Geronimo had his second productive game in a row. He scored 13 points and had eight rebounds. Geronimo did most of the damage in the first half when he and Jackson-Davis both went off the field 6-on-6.
“He’s playing like he did at the end of last season. He just moves around. He cleans things up. He cuts when he needs to cut and Trayce rewards him with passes. He’s an offensive rebound. He blocks shots. He does,” Woodson said.
Indiana desperately needed the win after digging a Big Ten hole. One of the game’s biggest decisions was made very early on.
Rare are notable timeouts, but with Illinois taking an early 4-0 lead, Woodson sensed anger and called a timeout to calm the Hoosiers.
It worked beautifully for Indiana. The Hoosiers went on a 12-0 run, forcing turnovers and bad shots from the Illini.
It seemed like the Indiana Wave would never peak. After Illinois held at love to keep their deficit at eight, Indiana pressed again. The Illini went empty-handed after five straight possessions, and the Hoosiers rushed forward to take a 35-16 lead.
Indiana was riding high and Illinois had just five field goals as the Hoosiers got their all-time lead.
That didn’t last. Illinois (13-6, 4-4) ended the halftime run 17-8 while Indiana led 43-33 at halftime. Nightmares of Indiana’s road trip to Iowa, where the Hoosiers lost an early 19-point lead, came back to me.
Indiana made sure recent history didn’t repeat itself, and Jackson-Davis led the charge. From the moment he converted a three-pointer 19:31 at halftime, it was his show.
Jackson-Davis scored 22 points in the second half. He did it in stunning form with three power dunks and a lob that saw him change direction in mid-air with gravity defending him no better than Illinois.
The only time Illinois threatened was when they used a press midway through the half, but the Illini never got closer than 12, and Indiana’s lead went back up after that.
“It was good,” Jackson-Davis said when he didn’t get as much physical contact. “I just take what the defense gives me, honestly, and just make the right play. Tonight they decided they were going to let me hit, so I did.”
Indiana has a brief turnaround as Michigan State comes into Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday.