The time has come for Indiana men’s basketball to show what it's made of, with the chance to play against the best teams in college basketball on the biggest stage of the year. This season has been filled with hungry teams fighting for one common goal: to become national champions.
Nothing was handed to Indiana, and the team proved its worthiness of having a chance to compete against the top talent in college basketball. Indiana rose to the occasion, closing out the University of Wyoming 66-58 on Tuesday night, winning its first NCAA Tournament game since 2016.
In the first half, the game was highly contested, with both teams noticeably jittery. Scoring was limited as both teams struggled to find good opportunities, missing many layups and constantly fumbling the ball in multiple possessions.
True basketball fanatics would have noticed how nervous the players were coming into this game, with neither team wanting to give up any defensive pressure to lose a lead. Both teams were firing off outside shots early but could not get any to fall. In the first half, Indiana shot 32% from the field and 1-8 from 3-point land. Indiana entered halftime leading 30-25.
Indiana was forced to play with the mentality of attacking Wyoming down the stretch for easy transition baskets without committing costly turnovers. Junior guard Trayce Jackson-Davis had a field day against Wyoming’s defense, scoring 29 points and putting up nine rebounds and one block. His aggressive finishes around the basket helped him lead Indiana in scoring on the night.
Jackson-Davis stepped up to the challenge when his team needed him, showing signs of maturity and eliminating the inside presence of Wyoming’s sophomore star forward Graham Ike, who is a massive portion of Wyoming’s offense.
Sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo also contributed, scoring a career-high 15 points and posting seven rebounds and one block. Geronimo’s contributions helped give Indiana a 10-point lead with two minutes left.
Geronimo produced vital minutes off the bench for the Hoosiers after returning from a knee injury sustained in Friday’s game against Illinois. In the Illinois game, he suffered an unexpected knee injury, leaving him unavailable in Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal matchup against Iowa.
However, Wyoming didn’t go down without a fight, as its senior guard Hunter Maldonado carried the team with 21 points. However, Maldonado had a hard time controlling the basketball against Indiana’s hard-nosed defense and was forced into ten turnovers throughout the game.
Both teams displayed textbook defense by setting charges, getting through screens and leaving no room for any player to make a run offensively. Indiana’s defense overwhelmed Wyoming, forcing 19 turnovers and seriously hurting Wyoming’s momentum as the game progressed.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson continued to do his job, playing with pace and patience and letting his game come to him. When Johnson plays with that mindset, Indiana often makes the right decisions with the basketball.
It is too early to say how much of an advantage Indiana will have to make it further in the tournament, but it has a lot of tough competition ahead of it to keep its season alive. But if Indiana can continue to play with intelligent and unselfish basketball, it will become a tough team to beat.