James Blackmon Jr. didn’t waste much time answering any questions about his health.
Seven minutes into IU’s 70-67 win against Michigan, the freshman guard connected on a 3-pointer to spark a 12-6 IU run. On the next Michigan possession, he blocked a layup attempt by Michigan’s Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
By that point, it was obvious his ankle was fine after he missed two practices and ?Tuesday’s game against Wisconsin. He was on his way to grabbing eight rebounds and scoring 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
“I was so excited to get back out there,” Blackmon said. “It was so hard to sit out.”
Blackmon’s return to the court was a welcome addition to IU down the stretch.
With Michigan’s zone creating problems for a handful of teams in the Big Ten already, Blackmon was there to help IU break it down.
He did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds.
But IU Coach Tom Crean was quick to point out that despite not recording as many statistics, Blackmon was key in spacing the floor and cutting through Michigan’s zone in the second half.
Michigan regularly switched up its zone defenses against IU. Regardless of the looks Blackmon was given, he was still able to penetrate the zone throughout the game.
In a game that was ultimately decided by free throws down the stretch, Crean said Blackmon drawing fouls and creating havoc in the paint was crucial for IU.
Crean even hinted the break might have ultimately been good for Blackmon, who averages 30.1 minutes per game this year.
“He had some freshness,” Crean said. “A guy getting a couple days like that was almost like going on a three-week vacation body-wise. That helped, and he did a good job in the second half.”
Had Blackmon’s injury been more serious, IU may not have been able to pull out the close win.
“It’s just another guy they have to guard,” junior guard Yogi Ferrell said. “We definitely missed James at Wisconsin because that would have opened the floor up more for our guards. He definitely helped us win this game.”
Blackmon’s return from injury — as well as junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s, who played four minutes — are good signs for IU.
As it stands, IU still appears to be in good position to compete for a top-four seed in next month’s Big Ten Tournament.
Grabbing one of those seeds would ensure a double-bye and rest for an IU team that’s dealt with a handful of injuries as of late.
Blackmon’s injury went under the radar at first because he managed to play through the pain.
What became obvious at Wisconsin was that IU feels it’s a much stronger team with Blackmon in the lineup grabbing rebounds, scoring and driving into the painted area.
For Blackmon, the return to the court started on the defensive end, which was evident in his early block.
From there, it was like he was never gone.
“Coming in, I worked on the defensive things, the things that I needed to do to get back into it,” Blackmon said. “That helped me get ?going tonight.”