You’ve heard of glue guy. Now get ready for Headband Race.
When graduate forward and captain Race Thompson walked into the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall press room sporting a blood-stained sweatband on his forehead after leading the No. 11-ranked Hoosiers to victory, he drew plenty of looks.
“How does it feel?” a voice in the crowd joked, “Being the first Indiana basketball player to wear a headband in about 15 years?”
Thompson answered with a gleaming smile.
“I’m feeling special.”
A special night it was, indeed.
The captain scored 20 points, shot 87.5% from the field and 100% from the free throw line, grabbed eight rebounds and swatted two blocks in the 87-68 win against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He was an integral presence from the outset in terms of both leadership and post play, as senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was sidelined for precautionary reasons after showing signs of back discomfort against Miami University on Sunday.
Thompson opened the evening with a quick lay-in followed by a monster dunk, immediately looking more comfortable than he had all season long. It was an encouraging display after averaging a lackluster 5.5 points per game through Indiana’s first four outings, and Thompson appeared to be playing with a plethora of militance that was characteristic of his senior year efforts.
Make no mistake, though — Little Rock ensured that Thompson would have to fight with more strength and gusto than usual for his season-best performance and a Hoosier win.
Beginning early in the first half, Trojan post defenders had their way with Indiana’s acclaimed workhorse, bumping and hacking away at Thompson. In fact, he was fouled three times in a 15-second span, all coming with brute physicality from Little Rock senior guard CJ White and senior forward Myron Gardner.
The last of those three fouls, which was eventually ruled a flagrant 1, was an elbow to the face, resulting in a “big ol’ gash,” according to Thompson. He exited the game immediately thereafter at the 8:34 mark and returned with 4:22 left in the first half, finishing the period with 4 points.
When Thompson came out of the tunnel, ready to enter the second half, a new persona was on full display: Headband Race.
The white-turned-pink Adidas sweatband covered the wound he had sustained 20 minutes earlier and powered Thompson to 16 points in 16 second-half minutes. Six of those points were rim-punishing dunks, and the captain’s contagious energy ultimately paid dividends in what was, for a long period of time, an uncomfortably close game.
In lieu of Jackson-Davis not playing, Thompson stepped into a prominent position in the two-man game with graduate guard Xavier Johnson and freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino. All seven of Thompson’s made field goals came in the paint — often an advantageous result of the pick-and-roll with dishes down low.
Thompson acknowledged how hard he had to work in terms of getting open in the post but said that his teammates’ willingness to distribute led to easier looks.
“That's a good team we played against,” Thompson said. “Me and (Johnson), we got into a little ball screen thing. You see Trayce and X do it all the time, but you get X for (Hood-Schifino) on a ball screen and you set a good screen — you're going to make something happen. They'll make the play for you.”
Whether it genuinely impacted Thompson's impressive outing or was simply a temporary device to mend a wound and cause a goofy nickname to trend on Twitter, there’s no arguing that Indiana basketball needs “Headband Race” every game — it’s the player he’s been in his best moments and the player that can lead the Hoosiers to championships.