Sophomore forward Race Thompson kept his eyes locked on the movements of the Iowa players. His back faced the inbounder as the Hawkeyes ran an out-of-bounds play from under their basket.
But once the pass was thrown, he instantly turned his head and intercepted the ball. Thompson didn’t allow the defender to stop him as he made his way down the court for a fast-break layup. The five-second sequence accounted for one of his four steals and two of his 10 points Thursday night as IU defeated No. 21 Iowa 89-77.
Both the points and steals totals matched or topped his career highs of 10 points and two steals.
“I've said it for a long time, that we're only as good as all of our players are. But Race has emerged,” IU head coach Archie Miller said.
Junior center Joey Brunk got the start like usual, but Thompson replaced him a little over three minutes into the game. Iowa played with four shooters around perennial All-American junior center Luka Garza, and Thompson provided more flexibility on the defensive end.
Thompson was tasked with trying to slow down Garza, but that was a job no one could fulfill when he scored 38 points. Instead, Thompson found ways to affect passing lanes. He also paroled the paint rather than staying on Garza the entire time, which resulted in a pair of blocks.
“I thought I'd come in with more time on the floor, just keep gaining more confidence,” Thompson said. “I know everybody believes in me, but it's some self-talk, too. That's just how I envisioned it.”
All of Thompson’s field goals came in the form of layups. He found backdoor opportunities and maintained an energetic presence that IU needed to keep a lead for more than 35 minutes. He never demanded the ball as he allowed the shot attempts to come naturally within the flow of the game.
“He does a lot of little things, and we have so many interchangeable pieces,” freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “He comes in and does his job, and he does it at a high level. We need him to win, we really do.”
His 25 minutes were also a career high. It was just his second game back since suffering an injury Jan. 23 against No. 11 Michigan State.
He didn’t score 27 points with seven made 3-pointers like senior guard Devonte Green or have a double-double like Jackson-Davis did with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but his performance still proved to his head coach how important he can be to the team’s overall success.
“He's at the right place at the right time,” Miller said. “He's about the right things, and he's a winning player. He helps you win. He makes winning plays.”
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