Hours before Indiana men’s basketball’s matchup against the University of Notre Dame tipped off on Saturday, droves of cream and crimson filled the seats at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to take in the opening game of the 2021 Crossroads Classic between Purdue and Butler University.
As the final buzzer sounded and the short break commenced before Indiana players jogged out for warmups on the special Classic edition court, Indiana’s Big Red Basketball Band marched out underneath the north basket to perform the first rendition of the countless fight songs that filled the arena throughout the afternoon.
Those in attendance gathered in celebration and appreciation of the state’s most prestigious universities and basketball programs, creating a rich atmosphere for the teams that took part. Indiana put itself on display in a 64-56 victory over Notre Dame.
Indiana announced Tuesday in a press release that this would be the final year it would take part in the Crossroads Classic due to the addition of a home-and-home series with the University of Kansas over the next two seasons, effectively ending the competition altogether.
In a midweek press conference prior to the game against Notre Dame, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said he was excited to take part in the Classic as a coach but was also looking forward to playing bigger programs like Kansas on a much more consistent basis.
“For me, it's sentimental,” Woodson said. “I love Indianapolis and everything that it has to offer. It would be nice if we could get a game here in the future. But as you build your program, you've got to put teams in play just to test your team, just to see what your program is about.”
The Hoosiers closed out their time at the Classic with Saturday’s victory, pushing their win streak to five games and improving to 8-3 in the history of the series, best among the four competing teams.
Despite a stale offensive start in the first half during which the Hoosiers didn’t reach double figures until the 10:39 mark, their defense forced 14 Fighting Irish turnovers to keep them in striking distance. The Hoosiers used their supporters’ encouragement to shift the momentum before the break with a fast-paced 15-3 run, giving them a slim 30-27 advantage at halftime.
“I thought the momentum shifted our way in the last four, five minutes,” Woodson said. “You stepped up and did what you had to do coming down the stretch, and you aren’t going to blow every team out.”
The chippy affair became even more heated when junior forward Jackson-Davis was pulled down on a putback attempt by Notre Dame senior guard Cormac Ryan in the second half, which led to a small altercation between the two teams. The referees called Ryan for a flagrant one foul, but senior guard Parker Stewart was also called for a technical foul.
“You got to stay level-headed, really,” Jackson-Davis said. “You can’t get too high or too low. Obviously, sometimes I let out emotion, but not too much. Got to stay composed and locked into the game.”
Jackson-Davis took control of the game late in the second half, flushing in a pair of highlight-reel dunks en route to his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
While senior guard Xavier Johnson struggled to find his shooting touch with a 2-9 mark from behind the arc, sixth man Rob Phinisee came off the bench with a 6 point, five assist and five rebound performance that included a pair of timely 3-pointers and alley-oops to Jackson-Davis.
“The thing is Rob hasn’t been 100% all year, and I think when he gets there, he is going to be really, really big for us,” Jackson-Davis said. “Once Rob has confidence, he can do a lot of good things for us.”
Indiana moved to 9-2 with the win and will look to continue its success over winter break against Northern Kentucky University at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.