In No. 18 Indiana men’s basketball’s dramatic 62-61 road win over Michigan on Saturday night, star senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and standout freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino combined for 49 points. That’s nearly 80% of the Hoosiers’ total offensive output. You absolutely, unequivocally cannot tell the story of this game and not make Jackson-Davis and Hood-Schifino the main characters.
Anyway, let’s talk about graduate forward Miller Kopp.
In 39 minutes on the court, Kopp logged a whopping 3 points. His greatest offensive contribution was arguably an assist to Jackson-Davis late in the first half.
But when Michigan freshman guard Jett Howard attempted a potential game-winning 3-pointer, it was Kopp’s hand hovering in front of his face, obscuring his vision and dooming his shot to miss the net, rim and backboard completely.
As the player who is supposed to fill the pivotal “3-and-D” role for Indiana, Kopp didn’t exactly light it up from three — but he absolutely brought the D.
My aim here isn’t to draft a Kopp puff piece. It’s to illustrate how the Hoosiers, after 39 minutes and 59 seconds in which they appeared virtually listless outside of two players, found a way to win a game they almost certainly would have lost before a couple weeks ago.
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is hard. In recent history, Indiana made it look nearly impossible.
Sometimes it feels like the court itself is conspiring against the Hoosiers. On one particularly tragic possession with 25 seconds remaining in the first half, sophomore guard Tamar Bates sprinted down the court in transition with only one defender beside him. He went for a barely contested layup, which rimmed out and rolled directly into the awaiting hands of Jackson-Davis, who threw the ball down emphatically — directly into the back of the rim for exactly 0 points.
The Hoosiers trailed 37-33 at the time but trailed by as many as 11 in the first half. It wasn’t until midway through the second period that Indiana took a 54-53 lead, its first in over 25 minutes of game time.
In lieu of a balanced attack, head coach Mike Woodson dialed up the bold offensive strategy of telling Jackson-Davis and Hood-Schifino to score a ton of points. No matter what offensive set the Hoosiers ran, the ball inevitably ended up in Hood-Schifino’s or Jackson-Davis’ hands.
Graduate forward Race Thompson missed the game for precautionary reasons — in a shocking twist, the infamously transparent Indiana athletic department did not provide any further detail — leaving junior guard Jordan Geronimo to make his first start in over two weeks. Geronimo played just one minute in the previous four games due to an injury of his own, so his ostensibly underwhelming 4 points and three rebounds might have been all fans could reasonably expect of him.
Even Indiana’s healthier players were likely feeling battered after victories over No. 1 Purdue and then-No. 24 Rutgers last Saturday and Tuesday, respectively. You’d have to peel me off the hardwood if Purdue’s 7-foot-4, 305-pound junior center Zach Edey so much as glanced in my general direction. That Jackson-Davis turned around and logged a double-double is a testament to how absurdly skilled and resilient he is and definitely not at all a reflection on my utter lack of skill and resilience.
Being a great team means beating less talented teams, no matter how tough the environment or how challenging the previous matchups. It’s fair to say Indiana’s ceiling is very high — high enough to take down the No. 1 team in the country. For the first time in a while, it might also be fair to say the Hoosiers are ready to repeatedly defeat quality programs away from Assembly Hall.
For the less in-the-know college basketball fans at home, that’s sort of the whole point of the NCAA Tournament. You scrounge together win after win, no matter how improbable or ugly.
For example, you generally don’t expect a game’s climax to come at the free-throw line, but that’s exactly where Hood-Schifino penned the turning point of Saturday's contest with a pair of made foul shots to give Indiana its 62-61 lead with 2:58 remaining. Those shots were the last the Hoosiers made. Fortunately for Indiana, Michigan’s last points came two minutes prior.
In a game they could have lost in so many novel, uniquely painful ways, the Hoosiers chose one of the only paths to victory. It was bumpy, ridiculous and ended with me wondering whether there was any player I’d trust more with the game on the line than Miller Kopp.
If you aren’t completely emotionally devastated in defeat and utterly dumbfounded in victory, is it even Indiana basketball?