Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: Indiana men’s basketball was in a prime spot to choke. It didn’t.

<p>Senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis drives to the basket Jan. 22, 2023, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington. The Hoosiers beat Michigan State 82-69.</p>

Senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis drives to the basket Jan. 22, 2023, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington. The Hoosiers beat Michigan State 82-69.

Indiana men’s basketball wins back-to-back Big Ten games. Full of momentum, the Hoosiers return to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to play a team they’re favored to beat. They look utterly lifeless in the first half.

Now, here’s something else that might sound familiar: Trayce Jackson-Davis is really good at basketball.

The Hoosiers’ phenomenal senior forward led Indiana to an 82-69 comeback victory over Michigan State on Sunday for its third-straight Big Ten win. Jackson-Davis finished the afternoon with 31 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and some of the most dominant dunks I’ve ever seen.

The pièce de résistance came with 5:53 remaining in the first half, when Jackson-Davis caught a cross-court lob and mercilessly dunked over Michigan State graduate forward Joey Hauser. It was a level of abject humiliation from which I don’t think any man could ever recover.

Jackson-Davis dunked on Hauser so hard that Hauser needs Jackson-Davis to sign a permission slip before he gets on the plane back home. He dunked on Hauser so hard that Jackson-Davis is invited to the Hauser family Thanksgiving every year henceforth, and he’s carving the turkey. Frankly, I’m pretty sure Jackson-Davis owns Hauser’s first mortgage now.

Part of what made that dunk so spectacular was that it brought the Hoosiers within one point of the Spartans after trailing by as many as nine. If there was a common thread in Sunday’s contest, it was climbing back from apparent defeat.

That held true for the contestants of the game’s halftime entertainment, five babies pitted against one another in a baby race of epic proportions.

Just like Michigan State, baby No. 2, Gavin, charged to an early lead. The contest was his to lose.

But like Icarus before him, Gavin flew too close to the sun. Mere yards from the finish line, he turned around to taunt his competitors, and not even the allure of a very soft-looking blanket behind the checkered stripe could shake him from his own hubris.

Whether by the wrath of a vengeful god or the fact that Gavin is a baby and doesn’t understand what races are — we may never know which is to blame — Gavin’s proverbial wax wings melted under the heat of the sun. While baby No. 2 gurgled mockingly at his opponents, baby No. 5 — sophomore guard Tamar Bates’ daughter, Leilani — shifted into high gear and cruised to a first-place finish.

Of course, we’re in murky waters with the daughter of an active Indiana player winning the baby race. Allegations of nepotism will surely abound, and the entire infrastructure of infant athletics may be brought into question. Nonetheless, on Sunday afternoon the crowd at Assembly Hall seemed perfectly content to support this particular nepotism baby.

For what it’s worth, the adult Bates had a pretty good afternoon, too. He logged 17 points, including five 3-pointers, some of which he launched from so far away that they looked downright foolish until they ripped through the net.

It was the kind of game in which even the Hoosiers’ lows seemed high. Take graduate forward Miller Kopp, who scored just two points but earned some of the loudest cheers all afternoon.

For context, Kopp doesn’t dunk. Like, ever. He’s basically a conscientious objector to scoring in the paint.

So when Kopp passed up an open 3-pointer midway through the second half to sprint down the baseline and throw down a one-handed jam, you can imagine the reaction in Assembly Hall.

Fans leaped to their feet. Mouths hung agape in stunned confusion. I may have heard some people speaking in tongues as their eyes rolled back into their heads.

Not every Indiana game will offer this buffet of absurd dunks, blocks and 3-pointers. While the last week has been a revelation for fans, it’s important to stay grounded.

The Hoosiers’ three-game Big Ten winning streak is surprising enough as is, and regression to the mean is almost inevitable. After all, you can’t always count on crawling back from the fringes of defeat.

Then again, how hard can it really be if a baby can do it?

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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