Coming off opening-week victories against Eastern Michigan University and Northern Illinois University, Indiana men’s basketball faces St. John’s University at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in the third game of its six-game home stand to begin the 2021-22 season.
Over the preseason, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said he expected some of the team’s veteran players to grow into leaders, and junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis answered the call in Indiana’s first few games.
Jackson-Davis recorded his 23rd career double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds in Indiana’s season-opening win against Eastern Michigan. He followed up with an all-around performance against Northern Illinois, scoring 19 points and setting a new career-high with seven blocks.
Through two games, Jackson-Davis is averaging 20 points and 10.5 rebounds. With those totals, the All-American is on pace to surpass the 19.1 point and nine rebound averages that earned him finalist honors for the Wooden Award and Karl Malone Award last season.
“He’s always that kind of guy that wants to prove to people that he’s the player he is,” sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo said about Jackson-Davis in a press conference following the game against Northern Illinois. “He’s always out there working hard.”
Jackson-Davis and Indiana ride their hot start into a midweek affair with a St. John’s team with an identical 2-0 record. The matchup is part of the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games, which pits eight respective Big Ten and Big East teams against each other early in the nonconference slate. With the exception of the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the series has taken place every year since the 2015-16 season and was created in honor of Dave Gavitt, the Big East’s first commissioner.
Wednesday’s matchup marks Indiana’s fourth appearance in the Gavitt Games. Indiana is 2-1 of all time in the competition and has won in each of its last two appearances, with the most recent victory coming against then-No. 24 Marquette University 96-73 in 2018. St. John’s all-time record is 3-1 in the competition.
The Hoosiers hold a 5-2 advantage of all time over the Red Storm. The two have faced each other just once in the 21st century — a 2015 matchup in Maui, Hawaii, where the Hoosiers came out on top 83-73.
Building off a 16-11 season, St. John’s has scored 105 points per game and averaged 53 points in the first half while also holding its opponents to just 65.5 points per game. St. John’s boasts four different players averaging 10 or more points per game, including junior guard Julian Champagnie, the team’s leading scorer with 21 points per game.
Woodson has said Indiana’s defense, which is allowing only 55.5 points per game thus far, is at the core of the team’s identity. It will take another team effort from Indiana similar to the one which allowed only 0.6 points per possession in the first half against Northern Illinois to contain St. John’s attack.
While protecting its own half of the court has come rather easily to Indiana, its offense remains a work in progress despite the scoring improvement from the first to second game. Indiana has been least efficient shooting from behind the arc, converting on 25.5% of its 3-pointers. Another complicated challenge awaits for Indiana in the form of the St. John’s defense, which has guarded the perimeter well and held its opponents to just 29.5% from deep.
Before Big Ten play gets started, Woodson said he’d like to see Indiana’s rotation become as deep as nine or 10 players. Both senior center Michael Durr and sophomore guard Khristian Lander made their first appearances of the season against Northern Illinois after dealing with injuries during the preseason, so the two could be in line for more minutes as soon as Wednesday should Woodson need them.
Woodson said he expects the Hoosiers’ bench to continue contributing at high levels as the season progresses and feels as though depth will be necessary to scrape out results throughout the season. Against Northern Illinois, seven Indiana players scored 6 or more points, and 11 of Indiana’s 13 players who saw the court scored.
“We don’t have a team that I can sit here and tell you that this guy’s going to get 30 and this guy’s going to get 20,” Woodson said. “We’re not built like that. It’s got to be a total team effort across both ends of the floor.”
Follow reporters Kamil Gut (@GutKamil) and Tristan Jackson (@Trist_Jackson), and columnist Da’Qwan Dockery (@ddockery35) for updates throughout the game and the rest of the Indiana men’s basketball season.
Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: WIUX 99.1 FM, IU Radio Network