Indiana men’s basketball needed five chances, but it finally overcame its misery on the road against the team with the worst record in the Big Ten on Monday. Despite another struggle down the stretch, Indiana held on for its first road win of the season win against Nebraska 78-71 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Nebraska, which was 0-7 in Big Ten play entering the matchup, also fell to Indiana 68-55 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall earlier this season in a game that began the conference season for both teams. With Monday’s win, Indiana moved to 13-4 on the season and 4-3 in Big Ten play.
“It feels good,” senior forward Race Thompson said postgame. “We figured it out on the road, it was about time. We figured out how to come together. That’s really what it’s all about, is finding a way to win.”
The Hoosiers made six of their first seven shots to jump out to a 17-9 lead in a largely empty Pinnacle Bank Arena, but the Cornhuskers caught fire from behind the arc and knocked down four of their five first-half 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes.
The lead never completely slipped from Indiana’s grasp, but the team couldn’t string together enough possessions to give itself a comfortable cushion against a Nebraska team hungry for its first conference win. Free throws and foul trouble dictated the scoring in the latter stages of the first half, and the two teams combined to shoot 22-28 from the line in the opening 20 minutes.
“That’s Big Ten basketball,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “You’ve gotta play however the officials are calling it that night. Our guards did a good job of controlling the tempo.”
Largely through junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis’ play down low, Indiana found anything it wanted below the basket Indiana scored 22 of its 36 total paint points in the first half to give itself a slim 45-39 advantage at halftime. Of Nebraska’s 39 first-half points, 15 came from beyond the arc and 10 came at the free-throw line.
After being held scoreless in the first half, senior guard Parker Stewart knocked down two 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half. Indiana couldn’t find anything to fall outside of Stewart’s open looks from deep though, and went 2-11 as a team from the field to start the second half.
Jackson-Davis went on to score 9 of the Hoosiers’ next 15 points, including a putback dunk that drew plenty of emotion out of the All-American and resulted in a technical foul on him, to extend their lead to double-digits.
Jackson-Davis took a hard fall and picked up his fourth foul before heading to the bench with under seven minutes remaining. Although he didn’t return against Nebraska, he said he’ll be ready to go for Indiana’s matchup with No. 4 Purdue on Thursday after recording his 30th career double-double.
Although Indiana didn’t score a field goal in the final three minutes and had four players in foul trouble, Nebraska couldn’t make the most of its opportunities. Nebraska forced Indiana, which opted to run the clock down instead of creating shots for itself, into several miscues that led to turnovers. Those turnovers, which had been costly against teams like Iowa, weren’t Monday, as Nebraska missed four straight shots trying to cut its deficit of 6 points.
“When you’re on the road you have to put yourself in the best position possible,” Woodson said. “We’ve played well enough to have won some by now and our defense has given us opportunities.”
Sophomore guard Trey Galloway and sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo stepped up off the bench for the Hoosiers, scoring a combined 19 of the team’s 21 bench points with a perfect 7-7 shooting mark. Freshman guard Tamar Bates was the only other scorer in relief of the starters with 2 points.
Geronimo put together another all-around performance, scoring in double-digits for just the second time in his career and pulling down eight rebounds, good for second-best on Indiana behind Jackson-Davis. He remained on the court in replacement of Jackson-Davis alongside Thompson to close out the game defensively.
“Our bench has been struggling a bit, and tonight we got some good production,” Woodson said. “They were ready to go and it helped secure this win. (Geronimo) might be earning some more minutes if he continues to play that way.”
Indiana will next face Purdue for the first edition of this season’s rivalry series at 7 p.m. Thursday in Assembly Hall.
“Don’t remind me of that,” Woodson said of Purdue’s winning streak against Indiana. “They’re next on our schedule, and we can’t lose at home. I can’t say it loud enough.”