Heading into its matchup against Minnesota on Wednesday night, Indiana men’s basketball won three straight games by an average of 15 points. Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers had lost their previous three games by an average of 15 points. Frankly, it would be downright silly for Minnesota to look even remotely formidable against Indiana.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Despite trailing most of the night, Indiana scraped by Minnesota 61-57, extending its winning streak to four games . Viewers were treated to a sloppy slugfest between two teams that seemed all too eager to hand the other victory.
Indiana’s offense sometimes feels like a Rubik’s cube that takes on several different forms but never gets closer to completion. Oh, freshman forward Malik Reneau scored 10 points, his best performance in weeks? Looks like half of the second unit forgot how to shoot a basketball.
The Hoosiers shot just 41% from the floor and 29% from beyond the arc, which sounds bad — because it is — but might not sound too awful to Gopher fans. Minnesota made only 34% of its shots and went 5-25 from 3-point range.
Cutting through the careless turnovers and unnecessary fouls were standout performances from senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and, perhaps surprisingly to some fans, graduate forward Miller Kopp.
Kopp was Indiana’s second-leading scorer with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. He also secured a loose ball on the game’s climactic possession to secure the win for the Hoosiers.
The veteran sharpshooter has caught a lot of flack from fans and prominent IU-adjacent social media accounts this season largely due to his lack of scoring. To be fair, Kopp averaged only 4.2 points in his previous five games— underwhelming for a Big Ten starter. However, in those five games he shot over 50% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc, meaning he made the most of his opportunities.
On the other end of the floor, Kopp is quietly one of Indiana’s better defenders, particularly on the perimeter. There simply aren’t many 6-foot-7 players in college that can lock down shooters on the wing.
I don’t understand basketball nearly as well as I should, but even I know Kopp offers a lot to Indiana that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet. Then again, my job description doesn’t include farming engagement from 19-year-old dudes, so maybe I just don’t see the complete picture behind the Kopp hate.
As for Jackson-Davis, Indiana’s all-everything forward logged 25 points and 21 rebounds, his 41st career double-double. It was the type of game in which you don’t realize how dominant Jackson-Davis was until he’s broken a school record and probably his opponents’ will to keep trying.
You say to yourself, “Huh, Trayce isn’t having a great game, is he?” Then a graphic pops up on the screen showing Jackson-Davis’ stat line: something like 19 points, 15 rebounds, the secret to emotional fulfillment and probably a few blocks, too.
Against Minnesota, Indiana needed every one of Jackson-Davis’ emphatic dunks and utterly disrespectful blocks. It also needed Kopp to break out of his slump — which, again, might have just been him barely getting the ball — and for Minnesota to post a dismal shooting effort.
You could offer dozens of reasons why Indiana should have lost or why it should have won by way more.
Notably, head coach Mike Woodson was absent due to COVID-19. Also worth noting: Woodson has been present and perfectly healthy for plenty of head-scratching losses.
You could also argue that if not for a few lucky bounces, the Hoosiers could be coming back to Bloomington with an embarrassing loss to the Big Ten’s worst team. That’s how this sport goes. You pray your roster of temperamental college dudes has a better night than the other roster of temperamental college dudes, then wildly overreact to the result.
Wednesday night, fate swung Indiana’s way. Fans got to drift off to sleep, their ears surely still ringing with the sweet, mellifluous symphony of the night’s contest. Dribble, squeak, dribble, shoot, bang — nothing but backboard.
Beautiful, wasn’t it?