Indiana men’s basketball looked lost midway through the second half in its second-round game in the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan. With 12:54 to play, Michigan senior guard Eli Brooks made a layup to give his team a 60-43 lead.
Michigan didn’t make another field goal for the next 10 minutes as Indiana hounded it defensively. Just seven minutes after Michigan took a 17-point lead, Indiana took the lead back off a pair of made free throws by junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Brooks made a pair of free throws to give Michigan a 64-63 lead, but Indiana regained it with another pair of free throws by senior guard Xavier Johnson. This time, Indiana held onto the lead for good and won 74-69 Thursday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for its largest postseason comeback in program history.
“This is probably the biggest win for our program in such a long, long time,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said. “I've got to give my staff and the guys in that locker room that wear that uniform a lot of credit, man, because this team, they just won't quit, and that's a good sign to me.”
Jackson-Davis and Johnson sparked the run for Indiana and dominated in the second half. After putting up 5 points on 2-6 shooting from the field before halftime, Jackson-Davis scored 19 points on 8-11 shooting after the break. He also added on four blocks, four rebounds and a steal.
Indiana head coach Mike Woodson doesn’t normally share what goes on in the team’s locker room, but he said his interaction with Jackson-Davis at halftime “wasn’t pretty.” However, Woodson’s message to the second-team All-Big Ten forward was the game has two halves. Jackson-Davis had the opportunity to make up for a poor first-half performance, and he did just that.
“The biggest thing for me is that in the locker room, Coach Woody got on me,” Jackson-Davis said. “He told me I wasn't playing up to my capabilities.”
In addition to the offense, Jackson-Davis and Johnson led Indiana’s defense, which allowed just 9 points by Michigan after it took a 17-point lead. Indiana forced 10 Michigan turnovers in the second half and allowed just eight field goals, four of which came from 3-point range.
Michigan sophomore center Hunter Dickinson scored 13 points in the first half on 6-9 shooting to help build Michigan’s 13-point halftime lead but scored just 2 points in the second half as Indiana clawed its way back. He dominated Jackson-Davis the first time Indiana and Michigan played and scored 25 points, but Jackson-Davis took control of the paint in the second half.
While the points went to Jackson-Davis, his huge second half wouldn’t have been possible without Johnson, his right-hand man. Johnson assisted on six of Jackson-Davis’ eight second-half field goals, a number of which came with the two in a pick-and-roll action on offense.
Woodson found his hot hands in Jackson-Davis and Johnson, and strong defensive efforts from sophomore guard Trey Galloway, sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo and senior forward Miller Kopp, helped the Hoosiers close out the game. Galloway finished with three steals, Geronimo blocked three shots and Kopp blocked one.
“I just feel like we locked in,” Johnson said. “Everybody held each other accountable for that man, and we just dug in and got stops.”
Johnson added one more assist in the second half to finish with seven after having none in the first half. He tacked on 17 points — 8 in the first and 9 in the second — and shot 3-4 from 3-point range in the game. He also pulled down eight rebounds for the Hoosiers, which tied Jackson-Davis for a team-high.
Three months ago against Notre Dame, the Hoosier faithful booed Johnson during a poor shooting performance at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. On Thursday, they roared as Johnson pumped his arms and yelled once the final buzzer sounded in the same arena.
“The game is starting to slow down for him, and he's seeing things,” Woodson said. “He's grown so much since we've started this journey.”
With Indiana projected as the first team out of the NCAA Tournament coming into its game with Michigan, a loss would have likely meant an end to its journey. However, thanks to Jackson-Davis and Johnson, the team has hope heading into its third-round game against No. 1 seed Illinois.
After losing to the Fighting Illini 74-57 at home on Feb. 5, the Hoosiers will have a shot at revenge at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
“If you look at our schedule and how we've competed this year, I would like to think that this game would put us over the top,” Woodson said. “I don't know how the (NCAA Tournament) selection committee works, but I've just got to tell our guys we're still playing, and we've still got to play hard and try to win.”