Looking to build off an undefeated six-game home stand to start the season, Indiana men’s basketball plays its first road game under head coach Mike Woodson when it will face Syracuse University at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Syracuse, New York as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis leads Indiana into this key nonconference matchup on the back of a career-high 43-point performance against Marshall University on Saturday. His performance set a new Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall scoring record, which was previously held by former Indiana guard Steve Alford with a 42 point-performance in 1987.
Jackson-Davis, who earned the honor of Big Ten Player of the Week in his opening week of play, is averaging career highs in points with 20.5 per game on 66.2% shooting and blocks with 3.8 per game.
The All-American forward stressed the importance of Indiana’s first road test of the season and said he and his Indiana teammates began focusing on the game against Syracuse immediately following the final buzzer against Marshall. He said Woodson has changed the team’s general approach in comparison to previous years, and Jackson-Davis has been preparing his younger teammates with words of encouragement.
“Coach Woodson said the great teams prepare even harder to win on the road,” Jackson-Davis said in a press conference Monday. “Can’t let the other crowd distract you and get in your head. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, we’re gonna have some adversity.”
After making a Sweet 16 appearance in last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Orange have gotten off to a shaky 3-3 start. They’ve scored 78.2 points per game, but have given up 77.2 points per game on the other end of the court.
Since the Hoosiers defeated the Orange in the 1987 NCAA Championship game to hang their fifth banner in Assembly Hall, the Orange have won each of the last five contests between the two.
Indiana’s 35.1 2-point defensive field goal percentage is the best in the nation, but all members of Syracuse’s starting five come into Tuesday’s matchup with double-digit scoring averages. Senior guard Buddy Boeheim leads the team in scoring with 20 points per game.
In its win against Jackson State University, Indiana got its first look at a zone defense similar to the one that it will face in the Carrier Dome. Under head coach Jim Boeheim, Syracuse has established an identity through the years with its two-three style of zone defense.
Since this approach leaves little room for forwards to operate in the paint and forces opposing teams to shoot the ball well from the perimeter, Indiana will have to balance creativity with caution when passing in its half-court offense.
The Hoosiers will look to improve on their 36.8% mark from behind the arc when they match up against the Orange’s zone, which has forced opposing teams to fire away 51% of their shots from 3-point range. Junior guard Parker Stewart and freshman guard Tamar Bates have been most effective with 46.2% and 42.9% marks from long range, respectively.
“If you got an outside shot that's makeable, shoot it, and let's see if you can put it in the hole for us,” Woodson said. “If you have plays inside with Trayce and Race, you got to make plays inside at the rim.”
Jackson-Davis punished Marshall for refusing to double-team him in the post by slamming home 10 dunks out of his 18 field goals made. The nature of Syracuse’s zone means it will be a much more physical battle in the paint Tuesday, and Jackson-Davis will be asked to knock down heavily-contested shots and make fast decisions with the ball when the zone collapses.
“There were holes all over the place because he made some passes out of the trap so I mean, he is learning to read,” Woodson said. “He is going to get trapped. We can't run from that. He has to be able to make plays and try to beat the trap.”
Woodson said he became familiar with the two-three zone during his time as a coach in the NBA, but noted it's more difficult to find success against it on the collegiate level because forwards can stand in the paint without worrying about defensive three-second violations.
“I'm just trying to prep our guys to get them ready when we know things like that are coming,” Woodson said. “I thought for the most part we've handled what's been thrown at us so far. We've had a chance to go against it a few times, but nothing like a 40-minute game. Only time will tell.”
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
Radio: WIUX 99.1 FM, IU Radio Network