When No. 12 Indiana men’s basketball needed a hero, senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and graduate guard Xavier Johnson answered the call.
In a raucous environment at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Hoosiers’ first true road game of the season, the veterans met the daunting task of taking on a hungry Big East opponent in their Gavitt Games matchup. Jackson-Davis and Johnson combined for 53 points and 13 rebounds in the nail-biting 81-79 win over Xavier University Friday night, and the pair sealed the victory with a slew of crucial late-game plays.
“They were tremendous,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “Trayce and Xavier — coming down the stretch — they brought it home for us.”
The Musketeers came out firing on all cylinders and, with the help of their clamorous home court advantage, jumped to a 16-12 lead by the under-16 media timeout. Despite having a senior and three graduate students on the floor to start the game, the Hoosiers looked frazzled and frantic, showing the composure of freshmen novices.
Jackson-Davis shined from the outset though, scoring eight of the Hoosiers’ first 10 points. He finished the first half with 17 points on 7-8 shooting in 17 minutes of play.
Unlike in their first two blowout games, the Hoosiers needed Jackson-Davis to be his All-American self in order to emerge victorious. The senior forward was just that.
Jackson-Davis dropped 30 points in a somehow quiet manner, which has become a theme in this young season. His statement dunks and long-ranging blocks didn’t induce the same “oohs” and “ahhs” as they would have last year, simply because stellar play is expected of the star captain.
“Especially with games like this — it’s our first road test — some of the younger guys haven’t played in this hostile environment situation, but I have,” Jackson-Davis said. “I took the load tonight, and that’s something that I’m willing to do whenever I need to.”
Jackson-Davis was a consistent pest on the baseline, both bullying his way to the rim and crafting his footwork flawlessly for nifty up-and-under layups. His six rebounds and three blocks on the defensive end were nothing unusual, and he only picked up one foul in 37 minutes of play — his first of the season.
“He’s capable of doing that. You’ve seen it over the years that he’s been here,” Woodson said. “I don’t know if he’s gonna get 30 every night, but we got him to play at that high level to help us win.”
Indiana’s weakest stretch came in the three minutes in which Jackson-Davis was on the bench during the first half. Woodson subbed in his usual rotation of sophomore guard Tamar Bates, junior guard Trey Galloway, junior forward Jordan Geronimo and freshman forward Malik Reneau with just over 12 minutes left in the first half, leaving freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino in to run the point on offense.
Hood-Schifino was uncharacteristically shaky, showing flashes of immaturity during his time facilitating the offense. He made a handful of questionable shots and pass attempts, finishing with merely three points on 1-9 shooting.
Thankfully for the Hoosiers, their veteran point guard took the wheel en route to a staple performance.
Johnson, whose notoriously fast-paced style of play is both his biggest asset and liability, took some time before settling into his true floor general form. He was handed a controversial technical foul after making a 3-pointer early in the first half, despite not giving the officials any reason to do so, according to his teammates.
Still, Johnson showed high levels of steadiness and awareness, both of game situations and what he needed to do to help the Hoosiers win. He ended the first half with 11 points on 100% shooting from the field.
Johnson’s role in the win was clear as day at the conclusion of the game. He had 12 points in the second half, including a 5-7 performance from the charity stripe.
One of those made free throws came on the back end of a double-bonus opportunity with merely two seconds of game time remaining. Johnson earned his trip to the line after what proved to be a decisive defensive rebound when the Hoosiers were up 80-79 and Xavier missed a potential game-winning shot.
After extending the lead to two with a make, Johnson stole Xavier's tipped inbounds pass to crush any remaining Musketeer hope as time expired.
“He was sporadic here and there, but for the most part he was solid,” Woodson said. “I was on X a lot, especially after he got the tech. But for the most part, (he) was solid. He did all the things we needed him to do to help secure this win, so I’m pleased.”
Indiana will return to the court Sunday against Miami University at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on BTN.