What started with Michigan State scoring easy baskets ended with Indiana men’s basketball locking down on defense Sunday, leading to a turnaround on both sides of the ball and a third-straight victory, 82-69.
Indiana began the game slowly, quickly falling behind as the Hoosiers’ shots weren’t falling and the Spartans were getting their looks to go. But after a series of substitutions down 17-8 and a reset on defense, Indiana outscored Michigan State 74-52 the rest of the way.
“Make no mistake about it, it was our defense that held us,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “I just thought from a coaching standpoint if we could find some offense eventually, we would get back in the basketball game, and we did.”
Just a short while ago, Indiana’s defense looked nothing like this.
Last season, Indiana aligned itself as a defensive team and considered that side of the ball as the launching pad toward success. Early this season, as Indiana beat up weaker schools like Bethune-Cookman University, it felt the same.
Then something changed for the Hoosiers in Las Vegas and didn’t stay there. They allowed 89 points against the University of Arizona, and in their next four games against Power-5 opponents, all losses, the defense remained substandard: 84 points, 91 points, 84 points, 85 points.
Sunday’s victory was the latest in Indiana’s turnaround from a defensive standpoint. Senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and sophomore forward Tamar Bates’ play were leaders on both sides of the ball. Bates had 17 points and made 5-of-6 3-point attempts while leading the Hoosiers with a plus-minus of 26. Jackson-Davis scored 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and his five blocks tied Jeff Newton for most in program history with 227.
“These last three games, man, everybody that's played has played a major, major role in us winning, and it's not just Trayce,” Woodson said. “Trayce is kind of the guy that's driving the car, but the supporting cast has really pitched in and done their job as well.”
Since allowing just 45 points in a decisive, streak-snapping win over Wisconsin on Jan. 14, Indiana’s defensive effort has been noticeably rejuvenated.
"We just kind of looked at ourselves in the mirror and knew what we had to do, and it was play defense and play harder,” junior guard Trey Galloway, who added 17 points himself, said. “We had to go back to our principles and what Coach Woodson preaches, and that's defense. We weren't doing that in those losses. Now we’re finally coming together and playing harder on the defensive end and it's leading to more offense since we are getting stops.”
Indiana turned seven Michigan State turnovers into 11 points in the first half alone, and the team’s renewed hustle helped create extra chances on the other side of the ball. With 11 minutes left, three different Hoosiers dove for a loose ball. Senior forward Miller Kopp eventually recovered it and garnered a foul, and the ensuing possession ended when Jackson-Davis found a streaking Galloway for an easy layup to cap off a 10-0 run.
Jackson-Davis's second dunk of the game also came off a Michigan State turnover. He took the ball on offense, spun around Michigan State forward Jaxon Kohler and slammed it home before strutting toward Indiana’s student section.
“For us, it's about staying locked in, solely focusing in on every opponent one at a time and then just sticking to what's working,” Bates said. “We can tell from playing a game and watching film what's winning us these games, and everything is starting on the defensive end.”
Freshman forward Malik Reneau played solid in his bench minutes, especially in the wake of his struggles as Indiana faced higher-level competition. Just weeks removed from playing only six minutes against Iowa, a game in which Indiana lost senior forward Race Thompson to injury, Reneau played 22 minutes off the bench and was second on the team with a plus/minus of 19.
With just more than 12 minutes remaining, after slipping while guarding on the ball, Reneau stood back up to get a hand in his defender’s face and force a missed shot. Jackson-Davis grabbed the board and carried the ball up the court himself before dishing to Bates. Bates, who was already set, fired and made his fourth 3-pointer of the day to extend Indiana’s lead to 6 points.
Indiana’s rejuvenated defense has propelled the team to a three-game winning streak, and the Hoosiers have the swagger and energy to back it up. Sunday was just another showcase for Indiana’s potential.
“It's literally what we do it for, all the work we put in as individuals and as a team up to this point,” Bates said. “That's what you play college basketball for.”