Indiana men’s basketball undoubtedly played a good stretch of basketball in the last few weeks leading up to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday. Indiana’s season was filled with nothing but surprises, making the fans of Hoosier nation proud of how well it performed throughout the season.
Indiana looked to further the noise in the NCAA Tournament after clinching its first tournament win in six years against the University of Wyoming on Tuesday. After winning in Dayton, the Hoosiers quickly traveled to Portland for their next matchup against Saint. Mary’s College in the first round’s field of 64.
Thursday’s game was Indiana’s fifth in eight days, with head coach Mike Woodson admitting to having only two hours of sleep after leaving to prepare a game plan for St. Mary’s College. On the other hand, Saint Mary's came off a fresh start from an eight-day layoff to blow out Indiana 82-53, giving Indiana the worst loss in its NCAA Tournament history.
The travel from Dayton seemed to take a toll on the Hoosiers, who started the game a little sluggish with costly turnovers, dangerous passes and a lack of focus to finish around the basketball. Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis had a quiet game Thursday night, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds in one of the All-American’s lowest rebounding performances.
Jackson-Davis and senior guard Xavier Johnson were the main sparks for Indiana’s offense, as Johnson scored 11 points and had five assists. Johnson and Jackson-Davis struggled to keep the offense going themselves as they had no support from the other starters.
Senior forward Race Thompson and senior guards Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp combined for just 6 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. There should be no reason for this, as Stewart and Kopp did not fulfill their obligations of being a threat behind the perimeter this season.
The fundamentally sound St. Mary’s team displayed elite defensive grit, showing discipline in beating Indiana every possession to make the team uncomfortable. Indiana’s turnovers were a significant issue, and the team finished with 13, driving Indiana into the danger zone of St. Mary’s efficient offense.
Indiana had no answer for the duo of senior guard Logan Johnson and graduate student guard Tommy Kuhse leading the way with their marvelous performances. Johnson and Kuhse combined for 39 points and eight rebounds while playing with a steady pace and showing versatility on both ends of the floor.
Indiana’s 21-17 lead in the first half was its most significant advantage of the night, with sophomore Jordan Geronimo picking up where he left off against Wyoming. Geronimo was the example of Woodson’s motto of “next man up,” scoring nine points and putting up six rebounds and one assist to give Indiana valuable minutes off the bench.
The turning point began with Woodson benching his starters, looking to the bench players to produce. However, Saint Mary’s pulled away late in the first half to lead by 34 points, and Indiana failed to keep up. St. Mary’s starters would eventually surge into a 23-7 scoring run in the game's final eight minutes.
During the entire game Thursday, Indiana looked defeated, like a team that reverted back into its old ways with no urgency to get things going. Mind you, it's playing on the biggest stage of all, and St. Mary’s put on an offensive clinic to pick Indiana apart.
It is only the beginning of what Woodson did for this Indiana team, getting it over the hump to regain the respect and winning culture back into Hoosier nation. Woodson will continue to learn from his first year of coaching, especially by using the recruitment process to build a deeper scoring core than Indiana had this season.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of days since Saint Mary’s College’s last game before Thursday's matchup against Indiana.