The Indiana men’s basketball team opened its season against Marian University Oct. 29 without its crown jewel: senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Jackson-Davis was sidelined for precautionary reasons, along with sophomore guard Tamar Bates, and the two traded their pinstripe pants for a dapper suit-and-tie ensemble. Head coach Mike Woodson listed the duo’s status as questionable prior to the game, raising many questions especially regarding where the team’s primary offensive production would come from.
Freshman forward Malik Reneau, a top-25 recruit coming out of high school, cracked the starting lineup in place of Jackson-Davis. It didn’t take long for Reneau to assert himself as arguably the most dominant player on the court, making it known the All-American would not be missed — at least during a preseason exhibition that has no effect on Indiana’s record.
Reneau’s efficiency, versatility and athleticism were glaring, and he helped the Hoosiers get out to a quick 10-0 lead to open the game. His strong screens, quick cuts and willingness to battle for rebound tip-outs proved his intangibles alone were enough to alter the game in Indiana’s favor.
Don’t be mistaken, though. Reneau’s numbers certainly spoke for themselves.
The freshman finished with a double-double on 14 points and 11 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. His scores were the result of playing bully-ball down low, taking defensive rebounds coast to coast and connecting with former Montverde Academy teammate freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino on the pick and roll.
Hood-Schifino had a quality debut himself, notching 11 points and four assists after earning the start. The young duo played vastly beyond their years, which Woodson attributed to the rigor and prestige of Montverde and its coaching staff.
“That coach is a damn good coach, and he pushes guys to play hard and do the right things on both ends of the floor,” Woodson said of Montverde head boys basketball coach Kevin Boyle. “The transition for them coming in has really been easy. It was kind of nice, starting those two guys for the first time at the college level, and I thought they passed with flying colors tonight.”
While the melodic rhyme of “Reneau for two!” flooded the chambers of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall during the first half, a new breakout star took over in the second, notching an impressive double-double of his own.
Sophomore center Logan Duncomb scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his second-year debut. His old-school turnaround hooks and banked-in two-footers were a testament to the work he put in during the offseason to earn himself a bigger role on the team.
“It felt awesome — it was super rewarding,” Duncomb said of his performance. “I put in a lot more effort this year over the summer, trying to get better to go out there and play and contribute. I had a giant smile on my face after the game.”
Duncomb has earned high praises from the likes of Jackson-Davis and his fellow captain graduate student forward Race Thompson during the preseason. Woodson acknowledged Duncomb’s freshman season could’ve seen a higher work ethic, but he was happy with how the sophomore’s dedication played into Indiana’s win.
“I told him after the game and in front of everybody, I was just so proud of him,” Woodson said. “He's hung in there with me, and he's caught a lot of hell, and he responded.”
Duncomb’s efficient outing further eased the blow of playing without Jackson-Davis, and he and Reneau proved that the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year’s bench replacements can pick up right where he leaves off come regular season games.
A positive sentiment regarding the absence of Jackson-Davis wasn’t the only surprise of Indiana’s first win.
The Hoosiers shot a solid 42.1% from the 3-point line, thanks to 3-4 shooting from Thompson and contributions from junior guard Trey Galloway, junior forward Jordan Geronimo, freshman guard CJ Gunn and graduate student guard Miller Kopp, as well. Indiana struggled from beyond the arc in many games last season, so a strong performance from Thompson was especially reassuring.
Graduate student point guard Xavier Johnson, who ended the 2021-22 season on a rabid offensive spurt, looked shaky in his fifth-year debut. Johnson had two unforced turnovers and displayed an iffy shot selection for the majority of the game, often playing overly sped up and rushing in transition. Still, Johnson’s core as a facilitator finds its identity in an aggressive, playmaking point guard, which can ultimately do more favors for the Hoosiers than harm.
Indiana will return to Assembly Hall Thursday, Nov. 3, to face the University of Saint Francis in its second and final exhibition game of the preseason. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on BTN+.