Indiana Daily Student

Two-man game between veterans, newcomers crucial in No. 13 Indiana men’s basketball win

<p>Graduate forward Race Thompson and senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis contest a shot Nov. 7, 2022 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana beat Morehead State 88-53.</p>

Graduate forward Race Thompson and senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis contest a shot Nov. 7, 2022 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana beat Morehead State 88-53.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there’s a Trayce, there’s a Race.

That’s been common knowledge for over three years. The teammates-turned-roommates-turned captains have always shared a palpable on-court chemistry, and their high-low passing plays in the lane were a focal point of Indiana basketball’s offense last season.

Jackson-Davis and Thompson are nothing less than the heartbeat behind this Hoosier team in their final season together. They showed why they’re Indiana’s most dependable leaders and difference-makers in the 88-53 season-opening win against Morehead State University, combining for 24 points on 52.6% shooting in the blowout while playing limited minutes as the Hoosiers’ lead grew.

[Related: Indiana men’s basketball shows depth in 88-53 victory over Morehead State]

The captains have an ability to communicate flawlessly with just one glance, dishing rockets and throwing lobs to each other in the post, often resulting in a score. When Jackson-Davis is double-teamed, Thompson comes dashing through the lane for the give-and-go. When Thompson’s gap defender collapses into help defense, he delivers the down-low drop-off to Jackson-Davis.

They’re each other’s bread and butter — simply put. The two-man game has become an integral part of both of their identities as basketball players, and it’s one of the Hoosiers’ greatest strengths.

But now there’s a new dynamic duo in town.

Freshmen guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and forward Malik Reneau have a storied past of their own. The young Hoosiers played high school basketball together at Montverde Academy, winning back-to-back national championships their junior and senior years.

Their synergy has carried over to the next level, and the pairing has already shown they can dominate the second unit. Head coach Mike Woodson’s first substitution of the night placed Reneau in the game for Thompson, and sophomore guard Tamar Bates replaced graduate guard Xavier Johnson.

“When that second group comes in, there should be no drop off,” Thompson said. “Malik has been playing great, and Fino is running that second team.”

Once Hood-Schifino took over as the primary facilitator, he turned to a big man to get the offense going in what was still a tight contest early on — not the All-American and Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, but his teenage counterpart.

Hood-Schifino and Reneau have the same near-telepathic connection on the pick and roll as Jackson-Davis and Thompson do in the low post. Hood-Schifino can weave through the lane to draw defenders forward, drag the ball-screen double team out beyond the 3-point line and make crafty, deceptive passes to create open shots for Reneau.

“The freshmen — (Malik) and Jalen — they don’t play like freshmen,” Woodson said. “They act like they belong.”

Reneau’s natural strength, graceful footwork and ability to finish any challenging shot are nearly a spitting image of Jackson-Davis' style of play. And, Thompson’s exceptional passing ability for a player his size is mirrored in Hood-Schifino's unselfishness and desire to get his teammates involved in the action.

[Related: COLUMN: Indiana men’s basketball is going to be amazing. Or it isn’t. It’s been one game.]

With Jackson-Davis, Thompson, Hood-Schifino and Reneau as four of the Hoosiers’ most important pieces of talent, any one of them could draw a load of defensive attention on any given night. It’s their ability to work so well with each other that makes them lethal, especially considering the cyclical nature of their playing time.

“I haven’t had the chance to play Malik and Trayce together a lot,” Woodson said. “You’re liable to see a lot of different lineups based on the talent we have.”

It wasn’t necessary late in the game, but screens and isolations in the post that led to easy scores from any of the four standouts were crucial in growing Indiana’s lead throughout the first half. Mixing in two freshmen to play heavy minutes with fourth and fifth-year players could be risky if handled improperly, but the Hoosiers have already gelled well with a heterogeneous lineup.

“It began when we first got together in the summer — I feel like it's really important for the team to have trust in each other,” junior forward Jordan Geronimo said about the intrasquad connection. “It's important to have that kind of trust and build that trust and nurture it as the season goes on.”

That’s the kind of trust that yields from the long-standing brotherhood that Jackson-Davis and Thompson as well as Hood-Schifino and Reneau have created and shared with one another. And it's that kind of trust that leads to an unstoppable connection on the court.

Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 
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