It took until late in the second half for No. 11 Indiana men’s basketball to step on the gas against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The Hoosiers’ lead dipped as low as 7 points in the second half, even though they never trailed in the game. From there, thanks to seniors Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson, Indiana accelerated to an 87-68 victory Wednesday.
“We let this get a little bit out of hand in terms of where we like to be in terms of holding our opponents to 60 (points) and under, but we won by 19,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “We out-rebounded the team. We guarded the 3-point line. They didn't shoot well from the 3-point line or the two. I'm pleased. I can't sit here and complain about anything tonight.”
With senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis out of the game for precautionary reasons, Indiana turned to freshman forward Malik Reneau and Thompson to fill in. But both players spent short stints in the locker room after injuries: Reneau fell hard on his tailbone and spent time icing his lower back, and Thompson caught an elbow to the forehead that drew blood.
The combination of injuries meant Woodson dipped deeper into his bench. Eight players played double-digit minutes and all 10 Hoosiers who appeared added at least one point.
“I said next man up — that's what this team has got to be about,” Woodson said. “I've always been about that as a coach. I've coached games where my best players have been out of the lineup. I can't wait on those guys. I've got to still coach and get guys to perform and play at a high level.”
All five starters scored at least 9 points for Indiana and the team had 18 assists, the second highest total of the season. Junior forward Jordan Geronimo added 11 points and five blocks off the bench, and sophomore guard Tamar Bates scored 8 points.
But it was Thompson, who returned in the second half sporting a white headband, who carried the load for the Hoosiers.
Thompson’s 20 points, eight rebounds and infectious energy guided Indiana, especially in the second half, where he scored 16 of his points. Thompson benefited from the touch of Johnson, who assisted on some of Thompson’s dunks.
“I think me and X, we got into like a little ball screen thing,” Thompson said. “You see Trayce and X do it all the time, but you get X or (freshman guard Jalen 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.”
Indiana’s second-half boost also came with aide from Johnson, who finished the night one point short of a double-double. Seven of Johnson’s 9 points and eight of his 10 assists came after the intermission, and he pushed the pace for Indiana all evening.
“He was solid when things weren’t going well for him early,” Woodson said. “He just started getting everybody else involved and making basketball plays, which he’s capable of doing. We all benefitted from it.”
Senior forward Miller Kopp continued his hot hand from beyond the arc, shooting 3-for-6 from 3-point range and finishing the night with 9 points. When the Hoosiers’ offense was struggling midway through the second half, Kopp’s shot helped Indiana find its groove again. Kopp hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the first of which capped off a small 6-point run. The scores helped Indiana extend its lead to 15 points.
“Miller was on the back end of it where in transition he was wide open for a lot of threes, and he made some tonight, which is huge for our team,” Woodson said.
While Indiana’s competition hasn’t been as stout as the defenses it will face down the line both in nonconference and Big Ten play, Kopp has shown significant improvement in his shooting through five games this season. After shooting 36% a year ago, he’s 12-for-23 this season.
The Hoosiers now look ahead to Friday, when they welcome the Jacksonville State University Tigers at 12:30 p.m. at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Woodson said the team will evaluate whether Jackson-Davis will return before the game.