It has been known since last season during his rise to stardom, IU lives and dies by the performance of sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. IU head coach Archie Miller has repeatedly said throughout the season that IU will go as far as Jackson-Davis can take them, but to beat elite-level competition, IU’s role players need to play at a high level alongside the preseason All-American.
On the road in Madison, Wisconsin, the Hoosiers’ role players did just that as they nearly knocked off the No. 8 Badgers in an 80-73 double-overtime defeat.
In the first half, IU fell victim to another slow start as the team struggled to even get into its offensive set without succumbing to Wisconsin’s defensive pressure. Within the opening four minutes of the game, IU had already committed three turnovers.
While the saying goes, “basketball is a game of runs,” in the first half it was more a game of droughts.
Both IU and Wisconsin went long stretches without scoring, before a sudden burst of baskets that would last for a few short minutes and return to the constant sound of the basketball clanking off the rim.
IU’s offensive struggles in the first half were exacerbated when junior forward Race Thompson and sophomore forward Jerome Hunter both picked up two early fouls, forcing Miller to heavily rely on his bench in the first half.
Following a 12-0 Badger run with under seven minutes in the first half, leaving the Hoosiers in a 12-point hole, freshman guard Anthony Leal sparked the Hoosiers to close the gap heading into halftime.
With just under 3 minutes remaining, Leal received a pass in the corner from Jackson-Davis. The Bloomington native received the pass, and without hesitation rose up and drained the 3-pointer.
Forty seconds later, Leal received a dribble handoff from senior guard Al Durham on the left wing with the shot clock winding down. In desperation, Leal took one strong dribble and swung his right leg around launching the off-balanced 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of the Badger defender before it fell through the net.
Leal’s personal 6-0 run helped IU cut the deficit to just five points at halftime.
“Anthony works his behind off and he’s one of the hardest workers on the team and I’m not surprised by it,” Durham said. “When I say he works his behind off, I really mean it. When you look up a hard worker, it’s him.”
In the second half, IU’s offense came to life. While Jackson-Davis was a dominant force after halftime scoring 16 of his 23 points, it was those surrounding IU’s superstar that helped the team keep pace in the second half.
Durham and junior guard Rob Phinisee continued their strong run of performances, each taking control of the offense while serving as IU’s primary ballhandlers. Durham finished the game with 15 points, including multiple layups late in the game as the Hoosiers desperately tried to stay with the Badgers. Phinisee scored 10 points — all coming in the second half and overtime — and dished out six assists while slicing through the Wisconsin defense.
“Our team has had to get more consistently from our veteran guys,” Miller said. “Right now, that those guys are starting to pick it up a little bit is a great sign. From Penn State, to Maryland and now tonight, Al has done a really good job for us. Rob has played much, much better.”
In the second half, Hunter also solidified one of his best games at IU en route to a 12-point outing while making two 3-pointers and managing foul trouble all evening. Hunter was opportunistic with his chances on offense, filling in behind Jackson-Davis as the defense collapsed, earning easy buckets from drop-off passes.
On defense, Hunter showcased what has excited Miller over the past two and a half years. He was able to switch onto all five positions effectively while hustling to close out on Wisconsin shooters when the defense was out of position. He’s shown glimpses in the past of the prospect IU thought they were getting two years ago, and now the whole package is starting to come together.
“Jerome has now stepped up and has given us a lot more minutes and was very good tonight,” Miller said.
IU relies heavily on Jackson-Davis to carry them night-in and night-out, but to be competitive more than one player has to step up. When Big Ten play started, the Hoosiers struggled as they searched for their auxiliary playmakers. But with Durham, Phinisee and Hunter beginning to produce at a high level, IU proved it can compete against the top teams in the conference.
“A big key to this season, and it has been all season long, is overall contributions and consistency,” Miller said. “Right now, we’re getting better consistency right now from our guys.”