There were lobs and dunks and blocks, highlights from every facet of the game. But perhaps the best depiction of the brilliant Indiana night wasn’t filled with flash and grandeur. It was simple, fundamental basketball, executed to perfection.
With just under 10 minutes to go in the second half and Indiana already holding a 35-point lead, Northern Illinois set up a full-court press. The first option was not there for Jordan Geronimo, who passed the ball. He remained patient, however, waiting for Tamar Bates to cut to the baseline. Bates caught the ball and, as a double team converged, he calmly returned the ball to Rob Phinisee, who cut the middle of the ground. Phinisee took a dribble and shot a dart at Trey Galloway in the corner, who knocked down a 3 point.
Friday night Indiana was everything it wasn’t last season. They played with balance, they played with energy, they played with physicality. The ball moved with the rhythm in attack. They used their length and athleticism in defense. The result was an 85-49 victory over Northern Illinois in a game Indiana dominated from start to finish.
Everything, it seemed, was in unison.
“I just thought tonight was a total team effort,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said. “I thought everyone who played tonight gave us an effort and did exactly what we asked them to do, which was quite nice to see. “
Friday’s performance was a glimpse into the dynamic style of play on both sides of the court that Woodson had envisioned since taking the job at Indiana. He made it clear that he wanted to lay the groundwork for the defense. He practiced it so much early in practice that he didn’t allow his players to change, forcing them to stay in front of their man.
Northern Illinois came in on Friday after a surprise win over Washington in which they shot 52 percent of three and guard Trendon Hankerson tallied 28 points. On Friday, Indiana held NIU at just 18 percent against three and 30 percent on the ground. Hankerson shot 1 of 8 from the field. It was a product of Indiana’s communication and versatility. For example, in the first half, center Michael Durr passed to a goalie in the perimeter but managed to hold on.
“I think we did a great job on their perimeter play because they’re so good at basketball penetration and off-rebound play,” said Woodson. “And I think we did a great job moving our feet and keeping them in front of us. “
Offensively, it wasn’t just that Trayce Jackson-Davis was playing like an All-American, but also the fact that there were complementary pieces around him. In 26 minutes, Jackson-Davis had 19 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks. But there was also Xavier Johnson, who effectively controlled the attack, scoring 13 points on 4 of 5 shots from the field and distributing three assists. Race Thompson scored a double-double in just 16 minutes. The Hoosiers totaled 37 bench points.
Equally important, the formula in which the Indiana offense is to operate has been successful. There was constant movement around the perimeter. Johnson maneuvered the picks and roles, many of which led to easy buckets. Shooting, a long-standing problem for Indiana, and necessary for Woodson’s open attacking style to work, was at a respectable 48% from court, 35% from depth and 77% from the line of. free throws Friday. If Indiana can maintain or improve their perimeter shot, opponents will have to pick their poison over whether to overtake Jackson-Davis and risk leaving someone open on the perimeter or playing with just one cover. Even in the first two games it paid off with more than one lob for Geronimo.
“It all happens naturally,” Geronimo said. “It’s not like, (there are) role-playing games for that stuff. But just knowing ourselves, our trends and knowing how we play and what we do. And that’s the chemistry that we have.
It was also clear that Indiana was just playing with more energy, something Woodson constantly preached and something Indiana lacked last season. In the first half alone, Geronimo fell to the ground for a loose ball. Thompson kept the offending property alive out of sheer will. Jackson-Davis was pushed to the ground because he was beating his man on the court.
“I always tell these guys whatever minutes you get, you make them the most important minutes to help us win basketball games,” Woodson said. “And that’s what they’re doing right now. “
More than anything, Friday night delivered some validation. Woodson took over the program this spring, but has already seen his players grasp the concepts quickly. Plus, it’s a team that hasn’t spent a lot of time playing together. Six new players are on the floor this season. Two of them – Tamar Bates and Durr – were sidelined with injuries.
Yes, that was against Northern Illinois, a team Indiana should dominate. But what was more remarkable was the way they had done it. There have been hints of what Indiana can be – the two wins for the Bahamas and the first half against Eastern Michigan. But Friday was a complete performance. While this is just the start of Indiana’s development, there is reason to be optimistic about the outlook for the season. Now 2-0, this development will get its first real test against St. John’s on Wednesday.
Snuggled up with his players in the locker room after the game, Woodson ended his post-game comments in two words.
“Keep building. “
Filed under: Jordan Geronimo, Mike Woodson, Tamar Bates, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Trey Galloway, Xavier Johnson