Freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis didn’t think he’d put out his full effort in the first half. His head coach didn’t think so either.
Jackson-Davis wasn’t pushing down the floor and only had three points in the first 20 minutes. He only shot the ball three times.
But he shifted his focus in the second half. IU needed him to.
“I thought I could beat my man down the floor,” Jackson-Davis said. “I tried to run past him and get as deep as I could and try to leg whip over him. And I got a few easy buckets on that, and when you see a shot go in, it gives you the confidence to knock down other ones.”
From the start of the season, IU head coach Archie Miller preached interior play and rebounding. He’s talked about playing inside knowing 3-point shooting isn’t how his team is going to win games.
On nights like the one senior guard Devonte Green had against Florida State University, Miller’s team showed it can get away with a high volume of threes. When shots went in, IU cruised on offense.
But when those shots haven’t gone down — IU shot 5-25 from three — IU had to rely on what its coach had said all along would be so integral in a 96-90 overtime win over Nebraska.
Jackson-Davis checked in with 8:37 to play in the second half, doing so while Nebraska was shooting free throws. He immediately grabbed the rebound on the ensuing missed free throw, clinching his fifth double-double in 11 games.
“He turned it up a notch in the second half,” Miller said. “And every single basket that he made we needed. It wasn't like he got one that was an easy one or what not. Every basket he got, he needed.”
Suddenly IU began to control the interior again, on both ends, settling for junior center Joey Brunk jump shots and jacked up 3-pointers suddenly became Jackson-Davis taking command of the paint.
He scored 22 points in the second half and overtime, getting to the line as well as he fought through contact with every rebound and every shot. He finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds, both career bests.
“I thought in the second half he was more wheeling and spinning,” Miller said. “He was trying to get himself going, and he was also on the offensive glass. He was big. He had good touches around the basket on a couple of tough shots, too, that he made.”
Jackson-Davis freed up space for junior forward Justin Smith to get back to his strength, playing at the rim. Smith finished with a double-double of his own — 16 points and 10 rebounds — as a result.
“We have mismatches down there," Smith said. "Bigger guys on either one of us, we can use our quickness, smaller guys on us we can use our strength. Our shots were not falling, really at all. It was part of the game plan to go inside. Try and get easier baskets and punish them inside.”
IU scored 52 points in the paint. It had 26 second-chance points, a product of 19 offensive rebounds. IU out-rebounded Nebraska 54-31 including grabbing the first 14 boards of the second half in a row. And it got to the line with its physical play inside, leading to 38 free throw attempts.
“They were kind of dropping off of us, especially when we caught it in the middle,” Smith said. “So that kind of allowed us to kind of get some spacing and really be able to attack going downhill because it was really a one-on-one. And we were able to use our quickness to get the shots that we wanted, and a couple went down.”
The smaller lineup with Jackson-Davis at the five brought back the interior presence IU lacked with the freshman out. And IU still scored 96 points on a night where shots didn’t fall. In Jackson-Davis and Smith, IU found a post combo that can play off each other and have success as a result.