It was supposed to be his night.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis’ 30-point performance against No. 15 Wisconsin on Tuesday night, just the fifth of his career and third this season alone, should have been enough for a third Top 25 win to steer Indiana men’s basketball back on course toward a more clear-cut NCAA Tournament bid.
His efforts weren’t enough to make up for the rest of the Hoosiers’ shooting woes, which resulted in a 74-69 loss — the team’s fourth-straight defeat to Wisconsin by single digits.
"He tried to put us on his back,” Woodson said. “Again, our team hasn't been based on Trayce. When we've won, we've won collectively. Right now we're just not getting that."
Back in Indiana’s Dec. 8 loss to Wisconsin on the road, Jackson-Davis struggled to make his presence known as a 22-point lead faded away in the second half. It was the first of two times he’d been held below 10 points this season, an anomaly for a player so consistently dominant in the paint.
Then, a lower back injury Jackson-Davis picked up in a 23-point outburst against Nebraska on Jan. 17 reinvited that feeling of insignificance — especially in Indiana’s three-game stretch against then-No. 18 Illinois, Northwestern and then-No.17 Michigan State, where he shot under 40% from the field in each.
So while the Hoosiers were in the midst of a three-game losing streak, their longest under head coach Mike Woodson, and with six games remaining in the regular season, Jackson-Davis understood the sacrifice that needed to be made to exact revenge against No. 15 Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
“I took the last two days off of practice to get healthy (from a foot injury),” Jackson-Davis said.
Despite his nagging injuries, Jackson-Davis activated attack mode from Indiana’s first possession. On one-on-one post-ups with Wisconsin sophomore forward Steven Crowl, Jackson-Davis wouldn’t accept being contained.
The unstoppable force that was Jackson-Davis came again. And again.
He made all the right moves, picked his spots and knocked down 10 of his 13 shots. As a response to his lack of aggression in the first matchup, Jackson-Davis also focused on getting to the free-throw line. He’s fought his own mental battle there, too, but stayed composed Tuesday and knocked down 10 of his 14 attempts.
"Obviously (the loss) is disappointing, but good to see the ball go through the hoop,” Jackson-Davis said reflecting on his recovery.
He added to that performance with all-around team-highs with eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks while largely contributing to Indiana’s 38-30 advantage in points in the paint.
While Jackson-Davis provided answers all night, questions and uncertainty lingered when the time came for the rest of his teammates to make decisions as the shot clock winded down.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson, who also struggled in the Hoosiers’ first matchup this season with Wisconsin with a 4-16 shooting night, couldn’t find his touch—despite the more comfortable environment in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall—and went for a slightly worse 3-16 mark.
"X had shots, he just didn't make them,” Woodson said. “I gotta get him in better positions. I can't shoot it for him."
None of Indiana’s guards reached double figures, as senior forward Race Thompson was the only other player to do so. The trio of Johnson, senior guard Parker Stewart and sophomore guard Trey Galloway shot just 4-13 from behind the arc. The three were unable to provide any relief as Jackson-Davis was double-teamed and Wisconsin pulled away on an 8-0 run in the closing minutes.
Despite Indiana’s guards’ recent slump, Jackson-Davis said he has full confidence that they’ll improve and believes in their ability to knock down shots whenever he kicks the ball out to them.
“It's just mental,” Jackson-Davis said. “They just got to have their confidence up and have support. So they're going to keep doing their thing, keep getting up shots in extra time. You just got to have faith in your teammates, and I know they'll get out of these slumps.”
With three of Indiana’s remaining five regular season games away from Assembly Hall, Indiana will need to find offensive production outside of Jackson-Davis’ scoring spurts to make it out of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"We control our own destiny,” Jackson-Davis said. “There's still a lot of basketball to be played."