Trayce Jackson-Davis scores 30 points while Indiana No. 12 holds off Xavier 81-79

(Photo: Sam Greene, USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana’s big man Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 30 points and the Hoosiers held off Xavier 81-79 as part of the annual Gavitt Games challenge between the Big East and the Big Ten on Friday night at the Cintas Center.

It was an exciting game with six lead changes and seven ties, but the final lead of the game was around 6:30 after a Zach Freemantle dunk put them 66:65 ahead. Indiana scored the next eight points and never fell back.

Xavier had his chances.

The Musketeers were within possession in the final minute of the game after a 3-pointer from Souley Boum made the score 80-79 with 56 seconds left.

Indiana turned the ball over at the other end with 34 seconds left, but Xavier was unable to capitalize. Boum played the ball near the right wing, collided with IU’s Miller Kopp and fell to the ground. He was quickly tied for a jump ball, and the dart sent possession back to Indiana.

The Hoosiers gave the home side another opportunity to steal the game when Malik Reneau missed two free throws on subsequent possession with 12 seconds left, giving XU ample time for another good look.

Adam Kunkel took a handoff from Boum near midfield from right to left, rolled around a screen of Jack Nunge and continued all the way down the left side of the lane until he tried to use his right hand from outside to walk the lane . It appeared to sneak past Reneau’s block attempt at the basket, but ended up being a little too harsh, ending the Musketeers’ hopes of an exciting comeback win over a ranked opponent.

Indiana point guard Xavier Johnson was the game’s second-best scorer with 23 points.

Xavier had five players in double figures. Boum and Freemantle posted a team-high 15 points. Nunge had 14 points and eight rebounds. Kunkel and Colby Jones each had 13 points. Jones added seven rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes despite not seeing action in the past seven days due to an ankle injury. He fouled 1:50 to play and missed XU’s final sequences on offense.

“I already knew that we could and had to improve defensively in all areas,” said Xavier coach Sean Miller. “We must continue to gain depth and further develop our bank. We have a bunch of young players that I have no doubt about as long as we stay with them over the next few weeks…or if you’re watching us in the month of January then we’re going to be a deeper team. We’ll be able to have guys come off the bench and contribute more.

Xavier played a great first half on offense and was leading 40-38 at halftime.

In the first six minutes of the second half, Indiana took the lead with a 16-6 run. Xavier played his worst basketball of the game during that stretch; Missed open layups from point-blank range, failed to return to transition on defense, settled for jumpers, and committed six fouls (including Boum’s third and fourth).

“For me, that’s what I’m most disappointed with,” Miller said. “We played the first 20 minutes… the game went back and forth. We weren’t ready for the first four minutes of the second half.”

As expected from an experienced team, the Musketeers displayed good demeanor and fighting spirit to fight back and give themselves a chance at victory.

“(I’m) very proud of our boys,” Miller said. “We fought to the end. I thought there was a moment around the six minute mark where we could have waved the white flag and lost by 15 or 10. We had a chance to win it. And that’s important and we can build on that.”

Here are some takeaways from the loss:

Xavier had no answer for Indiana’s big man Trayce Jackson-Davis. Whenever he caught the ball near the post and stayed level one-on-one against a defender, he would effortlessly throw in a baby hook shot. Xavier tried to double him early but he showed the feel and passing ability to beat those attempts. He also scored by driving past defenders on a number of occasions. He mounted the offensive boards and ran across the floor to find transition points. He looked like an All-American while shooting 30 points on 13-of-16. “You don’t want to lose the game to Indiana and let Trayce score 30 points,” Miller said. “You want to lose and a couple of guys had to take a couple of shots and they did and you did your best against Trayce. We don’t fall into that category. We lost the game because we didn’t have an answer for him.”

Xavier’s efforts on the defensive glass were weak at times and Indiana won too many 50-50 balls. The Hoosiers beat Xavier 15-11 in second chance points, but there were also a few more possessions where a loose ball rolled around between teams and IU eventually snatched it away and scored. This all contributed to Indiana scoring 50 points in the paint. “I thought there were probably six to eight games that really weren’t about basketball. It was about getting the rebound. And I’m not sure we have more than two of them,” Miller said. “There’s just too many of those plays in the second half, especially when we had to save the ball a couple of times from a missed free throw where they were the more physical, tougher team rebounding. Our defensive rebound tonight was part of our downfall on defense.”

Xavier’s attack was good enough to win. The Musketeers had 79 points with 40 points in the first half and 39 in the second half. They were 16 of 22 (73%) at the free throw line and efficient 7 of 17 (41%) from 3-point range. Despite problems uncovered on defense, offense was a bright spot against a top-tier team known for their defense. “Our offense was certainly good enough to win,” said Miller. “Score 79 points…I have a lot of respect for Indiana’s defense. This is a very good defensive group. And we had 40 custom dots in the paint. If you have 40 points in the suit, 12 turnovers, you know, you’re 7v17 from 3, 28v64 from the floor…many times you’ll walk away with the win. Our defense wasn’t good enough.

Colby Jones made a bold effort but wasn’t at 100%. Somehow he found a way to fill the stat sheet and play 36 minutes despite the injury. It also looked like he might have tightened it up again in the second half. He didn’t seem to have his usual blast when attacking from dribble and he didn’t move quite as well as usual on defense. Luckily for Xavier he found a way to stay grounded otherwise this game would have can go very differently. “He gave us everything you could ask for, not just a great player but a great kid,” Miller said. “I really respect him for playing and doing what he did in today’s game. Not many guys are capable of that. Hopefully we can get through the weekend and as our schedule develops we can make it healthier.”