Indiana Daily Student

Indiana men’s basketball avoids back-to-back losses, holds off Merrimack 81-49

Senior guard Xavier Johnson makes a push toward the basket Dec. 12, 2021, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana defeated Merrimack College 81-49.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson makes a push toward the basket Dec. 12, 2021, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana defeated Merrimack College 81-49.

Following a loss on the road in which it gave up a 22-point lead against Wisconsin, Indiana men’s basketball responded with a convincing 81-49 victory against Merrimack College on Sunday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana is now 8-0 under Mike Woodson at home.

“Helps to have a bounce-back game,” senior forward Race Thomspon said. “We needed time to reflect on it. It was a confidence boost, and we’re feeling better about ourselves.”

Indiana looked to jump out to another fast start against Merrimack, which lost four consecutive games heading into Sunday’s matchup, but struggled to contain Merrimack’s perimeter shooters for most of the contest.

The Warriors, who were ranked 266th in Division I with a 30.3% 3-point percentage heading into Sunday’s matchup, drained a season-high 11 3-pointers. 17 of the Warriors’ 29 attempts and six of their 10 made baskets in the first half came from behind the arc. 

Despite shooting 50% from the floor, the Hoosiers led by just 6 points at the break. The Hoosiers’ defense ranked fourth in the Big Ten after holding its opponents to 27.2% from long range, but they allowed the Warriors to convert on 35% of their shots from deep in the first half.

Related: Indiana men’s basketball counters 3-point barrage with paint dominance against Merrimack

Indiana came out of halftime with a stronger collective intensity on both sides of the ball, resulting in a 45-19 scoring differential in the second half. Merrimack was held to 29.6% from the floor and only five of its 16 made field goals came from mid-range. Sophomore guard Malik Edmead’s jumper at the 4:12 mark was the Warriors’ lone two-point make in the second half.

Thompson and junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis found the most success exposing gaps in Merrimack’s zone defense. Jackson-Davis’ aggression in transition forced Merrimack into foul trouble and put Indiana in the bonus just eight minutes into the first half. Indiana turned that into 22 points from the line.

Thompson went a perfect 3-3 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes and continued that productive performance in the second half to help the Hoosiers pull away for good. Thompson hauled in seven rebounds and scored 14 points on 6-6 shooting, extending his double-digit scoring streak to four games. 

“The holes were there tonight,” Woodson said. “They were basically one-on-one with their defenders and made plays at the rim. We were the bigger team, so I expected that.”

Thompson, who revealed in a postgame press conference that he hadn’t practiced all week due to flu-like complications, said Indiana has learned how to attack zone defenses better after facing other teams like Syracuse earlier in the season. After the first few possessions against Merrimack, Thompson said he and Jackson-Davis communicated with each other to make themselves a force in the paint.

Sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo was the top performer out of the bench unit. In only 20 minutes, Geronimo picked up career-highs in both points and rebounds with 13 apiece. 

Geronimo’s five offensive rebounds were part of an all-around effort in the paint by the Hoosiers, who outrebounded the Warriors 54-16 and held a 34-8 advantage in points in the paint.

“Rebounding is necessary to win games,” Geronimo said. “My mindset is if the ball is up I’m gonna try to get it, regardless of the situation. My teammates remind me to play strong and keep a lot of energy because that’s my game.”

With the game out of reach in the final 10 minutes, Woodson rested his starters and dug deeper into his bench. Sophomore guard Khristian Lander logged seven minutes after not playing in either of Indiana’s previous two games and freshman center Logan Duncomb knocked down his first career basket in the closing stages.

Indiana will face the University of Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Notre Dame is 4-4 and coming off an upset victory over No. 10 University of Kentucky.

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