Indiana forward Race Thompson had no illusions about a happy ending after Iowa’s Tony Perkins fell in his right leg on January 5 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“When it first happened I thought it was pretty much over. The way it felt, knowing it, I pretty much thought my career was over,” Thompson said Tuesday.
That was also evident back then when Thompson slammed his hand on the hardwood in frustration and fear.
Luckily for Thompson, the worst-case scenario didn’t materialize. After missing more than half of the contest in Iowa and four more games, Thompson returned to action Sunday as Indiana defeated Michigan State 82-69 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
He only played four minutes and contributed a steal and three fouls, but his return is a welcome one for the Hoosiers.
Whether Thompson can hold out longer on Wednesday when Indiana visits Minnesota (9 p.m. tip) remains to be seen. Thompson wouldn’t put a percentage on how healthy he is.
Until the injury against Iowa, Thompson had started 76 straight games for the Hoosiers. His absence was a key cog, particularly on defensive offense, and faltered Indiana as they lost three straight games.
Thompson credits the quick work of Iowa athletic trainer and longtime Indiana athletic trainer Tim Garl with a quick diagnosis that put his mind at ease and allowed the recovery process to begin.
“I can do anything I can do. I think it’s a matter of having faith in what you can do,” Thompson said of his recovery from injury.
Thompson’s absence certainly came as a shock to Indiana’s system, especially defensively. He was injured that game, Indiana leading by 21, although that lead was already shrinking when Thompson was injured. Indiana lost 91-89.
Further losses to Northwestern, and notably a road loss at Penn State, seemed to indicate the Hoosiers were mortally damaged on defense as they conceded 86.7 points and opponents converted 49.2% of the field in those three losses.
Since then, however, Indiana (13-6, 4-4 Big Ten) has dropped just 59.6 points as opponents have shot 38%, a big reason Indiana has won three straight games. Thompson’s influence was felt in his absence as the Hoosiers needed time to adjust.
“The fight in practice and the intensity that they had going through scouts while I was out, the intensity increased and the focus was better,” Thompson said. “We have players who can score at will. If we can stop on defense, we have a chance to win every game.”
In his absence, Jordan started Geronimo. After a shaky start, Geronimo has averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks during Indiana’s winning streak.
Thompson acknowledged he has to fight his way back into rotation, but he doesn’t take the process for granted.
“I have more intensity and I want to practice every day and be here with this moment and the flash when it’s all done,” Thompson said. “I’m grateful to be able to continue playing here and have the last few months to be with the lads, to be able to play and be healthy.”
HOOSIERS GO TO MINNESOTA
The luck of the Big Ten scheduling draw means the Hoosiers will only see bottom-ranked Minnesota once this season.
In a year of parity in the Big Ten — second through 13th separated by only 2 1/2 games — the Golden Gophers are a notable exception in a bad way.
Minnesota (7-11, 1-7) is two games behind 13th-ranked Nebraska in the basement. Oddly enough, the Gophers rank last in only one category of team stats.
Since Big Ten play resumed in early January, the Gophers have been relatively competitive. Three losses were five points or fewer, including a 60-56 loss in Michigan on Sunday. Minnesota’s only win of the Big Ten season came a 70-67 shocker at Ohio State on Jan. 12.
Much like Indiana, Minnesota prefers to get the ball inside the arc. Six-foot-tall forward Dawson Garcia (14.9 points per game) converts 44.7% of his shots. Morehead State transfer guard Da’Lon Cooper (10.8 points per game) turnovers 45.6%.
The Gophers will be shooting threes, but Cooper (49%) is the only Minnesota player to convert over 34%.
Defensively, the only category where the Gophers finish last is 2-point shots. That’s music to the ears of Indiana, who have drawn on Trayce Jackson-Davis for an average of 33 points in the last two contests. Opponents convert 48.5% on 2 point shots against the Gophers.
For Thompson, who hails from Plymouth, Minnesota, a suburb of Twin Cities, his return from injury means even more when you consider he can play in front of family and friends at Williams Arena.
“Going back home means a little bit more to me. I never want to lose to my hometown team,” Thompson said.