At the 1:41 mark of the second half, Indiana senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis made a veteran play. With outstretched arms, he attempted to grab a loose ball, falling out of bounds toward the Illinois baseline. Jackson-Davis — in a brilliant effort to preserve a 65-65 tie — secured the ball and threw it off Illini freshman guard Jayden Epps, who was standing fully out of bounds.
Thanks to both Jackson-Davis' high IQ play and game-sealing dunk with fewer than seven seconds remaining, the Hoosiers walked out of Assembly Hall with a 71-68 win.
Indiana needed every ounce of effort from its veterans as it could squeeze.
In addition to Jackson-Davis' 26 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, graduate forwards Miller Kopp and Race Thompson combined for 22 points and nine rebounds.
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Kopp, who struggled from beyond the arc against Northwestern Wednesday, shot 4-5 from long range against Illinois. Even though most of Kopp’s makes came with no hesitation, he acknowledged that his All-American teammate always wants him to take more shots.
“It was about finding my angles and making myself open so that Trayce can find me,” Kopp said. “He always says to me, ‘Be ready, be ready, be ready’.”
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Despite a nagging knee injury, Thompson continued the positive trends from his 13-point outing at Northwestern. He shot a productive 57% from the field for 10 points in just 22 minutes of play.
“He wants to be out there,” Jackson-Davis said. “Even if he says he's good, I know he's still going through some things. But he's playing as hard as he can, and that's what we need from him. He's starting to get back healthy, and he had a lot of big buckets today.”
With Jackson-Davis', Kopp’s and Thompson’s efforts, the Hoosiers completed a late comeback from a once-9-point deficit. The trio displayed the experience characteristic of true veterans in every hustle play, tough take to the rim and intelligent decision throughout Indiana’s hard-fought win.
That leadership was especially handy for freshman point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino.
Hood-Schifino, who has had an inconsistent stretch of games as of recent, notched 13 points but shot 29% from the field and committed five turnovers.
“Obviously he's a freshman, and sometimes he's going to struggle,” Jackson-Davis said. “That's when I come in, Miller comes in, and we get behind him and we tell him to keep going.”
And when his older teammates needed it most from the freshman, he delivered.
Hood-Schifino hit an equalizing jumper immediately after committing an unforced turnover with just over a minute to play. He then brought the Hoosiers in front for the first time in the second half with two made free throws at the 30-second mark.
“I remember in the last media timeout, I said, 'If we run that high angle, get to your spot because you're going to be open,'” Jackson-Davis said. “He was kind of frustrated a little bit, he didn't really want to run it, and then down the stretch got to that spot and hit a huge shot, especially after turning the ball over. It just shows how high of a focus he has, and he's just next-play mentality.”
Indiana’s seniors were invaluable Saturday, guiding their freshman floor general to deliver at the end of the game and bringing plenty of energy and productivity of their own. And, with the regular season rounding to a close and senior night fast approaching, every moment matters for the Hoosier upperclassmen.
Indiana will travel to East Lansing, Michigan, to face Michigan State Tuesday night. Following the contest with the Spartans, the Hoosiers have just three games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament — Purdue on Feb. 25, Iowa on Feb. 28 and Michigan on March 5.