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Tuesday, April 23
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

OPINION: IU men’s basketball proves not every quality win has to be a nail-biter

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Competent basketball teams should usually beat sloppy opponents without much trouble. The operative word in that sentence is “should.”

Last season, IU men’s basketball appeared hell-bent on inducing panic attacks every time it won against a quality program. Naturally, a 79-58 victory over ProvidenceCollege in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday was a breath of fresh, Hawaiian air.

At least, that’s the atmosphere ESPN 2’s coverage of the Hoosiers’ contest desperately tried to create while broadcasting from Asheville, North Carolina, the locale chosen for this year’s tournament amid travel concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

I’m happy the NCAA and its schools were able to settle on a venue to convince themselves they were being safe, but it felt like the equivalent of using a Zoom background of a tropical paradise while attending an introductory communications class from your dorm room.

Nevertheless, IU not only adapted to its unfamiliar environment, but addressed its shortcomings to put away a burgeoning Providence squad that finished fourth in the Big East last season. 

If I were to level any complaints against the Hoosiers’ on-court performance in the past year, I would likely malign their free-throw shooting, 3-point shooting and tendency to turn the ball over. 

Perhaps I’ve been ungrateful.

I’m not sure what distant stars in the vast cosmos aligned to summon a foe with less accurate shooting than IU, but that’s exactly what Providence was, mustering 63% from the foul line and a pitiful 18% from beyond the arc. 

That being said, the Hoosiers were far from perfect themselves.

Like an insufferably coy friend at a secret Santa exchange, IU refused to accept the many open looks it was gifted and shot 5-14 from 3-point range. 

This made senior guard Al Durham’s trio of 3-pointers all the more respectable. Anywhere outside 18 feet from the basket is typically a no man’s land for IU, so I commend Durham for making that brave voyage at all, let alone three times.

However, the Hoosiers graciously took advantage of the 13 turnovers the Friars tossed their way, resulting in 17 points. While IU was far from perfect in maintaining possession of the ball, it only surrendered three points off of turnovers thanks to a staunch defensive effort.

Obviously, your defense will look pretty good when your opponent is heaving bricks at the hoop like Kevin McCallister targeting Marv in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” Still, the Hoosiers swarmed the Friars in the paint and seldom let a rebound escape.

IU’s control of the boards extended to the offense, which snagged 15 throughout the competition. 

By now, the Hoosiers’ 3-point attempts feel more like unnecessarily complex assists, but I’ll take any strategy that gets the ball to sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and junior forward Race Thompson lurking in the post. 

Jackson-Davis struggled to find his groove against Providence but still managed 12 points and seven rebounds. I suppose standing six feet, nine inches with tree branches for arms means even your off days look good on a stat sheet.

Meanwhile, Thompson was the star for the Hoosiers, netting his first career double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds. His tireless physicality and improved shooting earned him the Tommy Bahama player of the game, granting him the prestigious honor of having ESPN analyst Bill Walton discuss Tommy Bahama’s robust selection of casual sportswear and unbeatable discounts while Thompson’s highlight reel rolled on, seemingly unnoticed. 

On an afternoon filled with unforced errors, both on the court and in the remote announcers’ booth, IU weathered the storm thanks to impressive growth in previously unrefined areas. 

Similarly to the working masses of the world who battle unexpectedly crowded home workspaces and unlaundered sweatpants every day, the Hoosiers overcame discomfort and messiness to defeat a genuinely good program.

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