Indiana men’s basketball avoided an upset in its season-opener against Eastern Michigan University on Tuesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, starting the Mike Woodson era off with a 68-62 victory.
Indiana’s starting five consisted of three transfers in senior forward Miller Kopp and senior guards Xavier Johnson and Parker Stewart. Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson, a pair of Indiana veterans, rounded out the lineup.
Indiana brought fans into the game early, jumping out to a 10-0 lead off solid perimeter defense and a pair of threes from Stewart. Eastern Michigan’s first basket came over seven minutes into the first half.
The Hoosiers’ defense shined in the first half, allowing just 19 points and forcing the Eagles to a 22.6% shooting percentage with only seven made field goals.
“I keep saying if we can build a defensive foundation here, we’ll be in every ball game and give ourselves a chance to win,” Woodson said.
Ahead of the game, Woodson pinpointed the Hoosiers’ depth as the key for a successful start to the nonconference portion of the schedule. The Hoosiers’ bench unit responded well, contributing 13 of the team’s 36 first-half points. Senior guard Rob Phinisee led all Indiana players with seven points at the break.
Freshman guard Tamar Bates, whose status ahead of the game was questionable due to an undisclosed injury he suffered during the preseason, played 15 minutes off the bench and scored six points.
Despite taking a convincing 36-19 lead at halftime, Woodson said Indiana allowed Eastern Michigan back into the game by getting too comfortable. In the second half, Eastern Michigan outscored Indiana 43-32.
A key component in Eastern Michigan’s comeback was Indiana’s inability to knock down three-pointers and timely free throws, a theme of recent seasons. Indiana shot 4-of-24 from behind the arc and all of the makes came in the first 20 minutes. At the charity stripe, Indiana shot 60%.
“These same guys have been making them in practice, but they have to get comfortable taking them in the game, and they will,” Woodson said.
Jackson-Davis’ contributions helped the Hoosiers survive the Eagles’ late push. He scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half and posted a double-double with 14 rebounds in the season-opener.
“If I don’t bring it, then we’re not gonna go,” Jackson-Davis said. “I played the whole second half, so that’s just another thing with my conditioning is being able to stay on the floor.”
Eastern Michigan freshman guard Noah Farrakhan sparked the comeback, shooting 3-of-5 from deep in the second half and leading his team with 18 points.
“Our switching was good for the most part, but we still have to challenge shots,” Woodson said of Indiana’s defense. “We got soft. We were comfortable with the lead.”
Woodson said he’s much happier to start the season 1-0 than 0-1, and made it clear that it will take time for Indiana to get into the swing of things.
“This is a team we’ve assembled that’s trying to learn how to win,” Woodson said. “This is the first test with the team, and I’m happy we didn’t crack down the stretch, but we’ll have to go back and watch film.”
Woodson said he took in the sights and sounds of his first game as the head coach of his alma mater, but wanted the attention he received to be focused on his players and the goals Indiana is trying to reach.
“It’s good to be back and it’s a special time for me, but this isn’t about me,” Woodson said. “This is about the 17 guys wearing this uniform. We’re trying to get them back on top and teaching them how to win ball games.”
Indiana’s six-game home stand to begin the season continues against Northern Illinois University at 7 p.m. Friday in Bloomington.