No one in a million years would have thought Indiana men’s basketball would make an impact the way it has in the Big Ten Tournament. Right now, Indiana is the unsung hero in the conference, showing true grit and focus on locking in together as a team.
Indiana’s problem has typically been not being consistent and aggressive throughout the game’s full 40 minutes. However, No. 1-seed Illinois saw a different Indiana team in Friday afternoon’s game, as Indiana sealed the deal, winning 65-63 to advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
Indiana’s action was filled with mind-blowing plays and high-level intensity as the team started by knocking down shots early. It was a collective team effort due to proper all-around focus, and all five starters scored consistently to create a 13-9 lead early in the first half.
It was terrific to see senior guards Miller Kopp and Parker Stewart knocking down shots early to contribute to Indiana’s lead. The fans of Hoosier nation have been waiting all season to see Kopp and Stewart step up to the plate, and they did just that, knocking down shots right when Indiana needed them.
The consistency of Indiana’s offense was truly impressive to watch, with senior guard Xavier Johnson continuing his sensational tournament performance. Johnson played with control throughout the game, finishing with 13 points, four rebounds and six assists. His efforts helped keep Indiana within striking distance for most of the game.
Johnson’s leadership on the floor allowed the Hoosiers to play with a consistent pace offensively, without forcing shots or passes. Johnson let the game come to him gradually, and he kept displaying his electrifying scoring ability because of it.
Illinois had a slow start, left to rely on junior center Kofi Cockburn to keep its conference tournament hopes alive. Cockburn showed his toughness and consistently finished around the basket, causing some problems for Indiana’s defense. The 7-footer was a handful for Indiana’s big men to handle until junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis began to shut down Cockburn’s rhythm to create a bit of his own rhythm instead.
The All-American had another high-scoring performance with 21 points and seven rebounds during the back and forth scoring from both teams. Jackson-Davis did better with stretching his game to confuse his defenders while using his opposite hand and even stepping out of his comfort zone to hit a mid-range jump shot in the second half.
The versatility of both Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson is what Indiana will need to continue its success moving forward. Without their ability to space the floor, Indiana will struggle to create a solid offense unless sophomore guard Trey Galloway and other guards can continue to play the way they have to provide different energy to the game.
It has been amazing to watch the confidence of Galloway blossom throughout the season, showing why head coach Mike Woodson should believe in his ability to contribute. Galloway produced excellent minutes off the bench against Illinois, adding eight points and two rebounds and assists while also showing his craftiness to help give Indiana the desperately needed win.
If Indiana can continue to play with the same focus and intensity it had against Illinois, the team will become a genuine threat for the rest of the postseason. The energy Indiana started with was truly exceptional, and it has proven it deserves a spot in the “big dance” that is March Madness.