Indiana men’s basketball needed a win against No. 8 seed Michigan on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to even be in the conversation to make the NCAA Tournament. It did that. On Friday, it continued its winning ways and likely punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament by taking down No. 1 seed 65-63 Illinois in the quarterfinals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Indiana advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2013 and became the first No. 9 seed to accomplish that feat since 2002. While Indiana’s showing in the conference tournament is likely enough to make the NCAA Tournament, senior guard Xavier Johnson and junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis both reiterated just making the semifinal isn’t their goal.
“We came to win the whole thing,” Johnson said. “We packed for four days.”
Indiana and Illinois went back and forth the entire second half Friday. The lead switched hands seven times after halftime, and in the final five minutes neither team took a lead larger than 3 points. Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn, who finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, made a pair of free throws to take a 63-62 lead with 33 seconds left to play.
However, Cockburn sent Jackson-Davis to the free-throw line with a foul. With Indiana’s season on the line, the 67% free-throw shooter stepped up and sank them both to give Indiana a 64-63 lead, marking the last lead change of the game.
“It was just belief,” Jackson-Davis said. “I shoot a hundred free throws with some of our coaches every day, so I was just thinking of practice and trying to get that scenario in my head, that I'm just in practice knocking them down, so that's what I did.”
When Indiana faced Illinois earlier this season on Feb. 5, Jackson-Davis scored just 6 points on 3-9 shooting in a 17-point loss. He said that game took a lot of his confidence away, and it caused the slump he’s been in as of late, but he finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block Friday. With his performance, Jackson-Davis became the second player in Indiana history to total 1,500 points, 750 rebounds and 150 blocks in his career.
“There's been a lot of talk, especially the last two years, of me not showing up at the end of the season, so I'm trying to change that narrative,” Jackson-Davis said. “Illinois was a bully today, and I think we took care of that problem.
Illinois senior guard Trent Frazier threw a pass out of bounds on its next possession, but senior forward Miller Kopp missed the front end of a one-and-one trip to the free-throw line with 10.5 seconds to play which gave Illinois one last chance to take the lead. However, sophomore guard Andre Carbelo missed a layup after driving the length of the court to the rim.
Jackson-Davis grabbed the rebound, and Frazier fouled him, sending him to the line with 1.5 seconds left to play. Jackson-Davis made the first free throw and missed the second, but Illinois, with no timeouts left, had no opportunity for a last second shot.
Jackson-Davis led the Hoosiers again after a 24-point performance in his first appearance in the tournament, but he didn’t do it alone. Johnson shot at a lackluster 5-15 clip from the field, but still finished with 13 points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals and just one turnover.
“Coach Woodson got us to believe,” Johnson said. “Everybody believes that we can win. We were playing both sides of the ball well.”
Friday’s game served as a redemption opportunity for senior forward Race Thompson, who scored just 5 points and was benched during Indiana’s comeback against Michigan Thursday. He scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds, including two important 3-pointers early in the second half.
Thompson’s 2-2 effort from 3-point range accounted for two-thirds of the team’s points from long range. The rest of the team put together a 1-8 effort from beyond the arc, but where the Hoosiers lacked in long range shooting, they made up for in bench production.
While Illinois’ bench scored just 5 points, Indiana's put up 15, including 8 points from sophomore guard Trey Galloway, who played in his first game back from injury Thursday. Senior guard Rob Phinisee, who didn’t play in Indiana’s first game with Illinois, added 6 points and two assists Friday.
Both Galloway and Phinisee helped Indiana’s defense hold Illinois to 6 points in the final five minutes, all of which came from free throws. Illinois shot 35.7% from the field and went on two streaks of over five minutes without making any field goals, one in each half.
“I played for a great coach in Bob Knight, and the one thing he taught me was defense wins games,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “If you can put a good defensive system in place, you put yourself in a great position to win every game, you're going to be in every ballgame, and that's how we've been all season.”
Indiana will have yet another chance at revenge in its next game against No. 5 seed Iowa at 1 p.m. Saturday. Just like Michigan and Illinois, Iowa beat Indiana in the regular season and advanced to the semifinals with a win over Rutgers. With a win, Indiana would advance to the Big Ten Tournament final for just the second time in program history, with the first being in 2001.