From the opening stretch of offensive possessions for Indiana men’s basketball in its matchup against Penn State on Sunday, it seemed as though junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson would find plenty of opportunities to attack the paint and score easy points for Indiana.
Although the two forwards combined for 25 shot attempts in the 64 combined minutes they played, most of their looks came once the rest of Indiana's offense couldn’t get anything going. With the momentum in Penn State’s favor, Indiana couldn’t claw its way back from a second-half deficit solely through its star players. Penn State was able to hold on to a 61-58 victory.
“We can’t have the ball stick, we gotta keep moving it,” Jackson-Davis said. “Especially when they do come over and double, we have to make sure we’re finding them on open shots because I don’t think it’s acceptable for (the other Indiana players) to get the shots they got tonight.”
Jackson-Davis converted several easy hook shots and dunks in one-on-one coverage down low, which made up a majority of Indiana’s 28 points in the paint. Rather than exploiting these mismatches in the paint against Penn State’s zone defense for extended periods of time, the Hoosiers looked to get more players involved.
Penn State held shooters like senior forward Miller Kopp and senior guard Parker Stewart in check, though, as the two shot a combined 3-9 from the floor for 7 points.
“We were frozen, like we had never seen a 2-3 zone,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “I thought when we did cut there were opportunities. I think man-to-man we have to set some more screens and get (Kopp and Stewart) looks that way.”
The main three true point guards in Indiana’s rotation – senior guard Xavier Johnson, senior guard Rob Phinisee and freshman guard Tamar Bates – couldn’t find their rhythm and failed to provide any relief when the two forwards went to the bench. Johnson and Phinisee each scored 9 points but shot a combined 6-17, and Bates went scoreless.
“You can’t play them 40 (minutes), you’ve got to get them a breather somehow,” Woodson said about Jackson-Davis and Thompson. “I was trying to buy some time. They played enough minutes, we can’t use that as an excuse.”
Although Jackson-Davis came through for the Hoosiers with 20 points to lead all scorers, Woodson said there were areas in which the All-American could’ve played better.
“I look at Trayce’s 20 (points), and he only got five rebounds,” Woodson said. “Trayce missed two bunnies, what I call, down the stretch that are big shots.”
Thompson, the other half of Indiana’s starting frontcourt duo, was a force in the paint the entire game, which led to a near double-double with 9 points and 10 rebounds.
Thompson’s hustle plays, including his game-leading six offensive rebounds, gave Indiana a much-needed boost when its shooting went cold. But despite his efforts crashing the glass, Indiana was outrebounded 39-29 by Penn State.
“They just beat us in that area tonight,” Thompson said. “That cost us a little bit. Our defense was good enough to win, but we just need to keep getting better on offense.”
With the game hanging in the balance as the clock ran down, Jackson-Davis had a pair of opportunities to give Indiana the lead with under 30 seconds remaining. The first, an inbound play when Indiana trailed by 1 point, resulted in a missed bank shot by Jackson-Davis with two defenders on his trail. The other came in the final seconds as he attempted just his second 3-pointer of the season in desperation to tie the game, but missed the mark.
“You’ve got to go to him,” Woodson said about Jackson-Davis. “He’s capable of going around guys and making plays at the rim, so I felt comfortable going to him.”
Indiana will look to bounce back from the loss and get more production as a unit when it continues Big Ten play against Ohio State at 7 p.m. Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.