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Sunday, March 3
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: Indiana men’s basketball isn’t pretty, but it isn’t quitting either

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So. How’s everyone’s blood pressure doing? 

One week after it knocked off Michigan 62-61 and three days after it fell to Northwestern 64-62, No. 14 Indiana men’s basketball defeated Illinois 71-68 on Saturday afternoon. For the third straight game, the Hoosiers’ fate was decided by a single shot with two seconds or less on the clock.  

And for the third straight game, despite looking completely lifeless at times, Indiana didn’t quit.  

Sports fans love to praise effort. A basketball team goes on a scoring run after trailing by double digits in the second half and we act like we’ve seen the face of God. 

Still, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the ability to fight through slumps is the biggest factor differentiating this year’s Indiana from the Hoosiers of the last few.  

As you’ve probably already surmised, Indiana looked rough early. A porous defense led to six Illinois 3-pointers and an underwhelming effort on the boards. With 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, the Illini were getting more second chances than the male protagonist of an airport kiosk romance novel.  

While the Illini only led by 3 points at halftime, it felt like the Hoosiers were punching well below their weight class. 

A feeling of confusion and uncertainty seemed to linger in the crowd at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall when the players headed to the locker rooms. Fortunately for the spectators, that uneasiness quickly turned into elation as the Firecrackers, a girls’ precision jump rope team, absolutely killed the halftime show. 

Name something you could do with a jump rope, and the Firecrackers did it. Backflips. Five girls jumping the same rope at once. At one point, two of the larger Firecrackers grabbed another by the wrists and ankles and used her as a jump rope.  

My mind raced as I struggled to comprehend the scene before me. How are they doing that? Where are their bones? Why am I suddenly getting jealous? Sure, those elementary-age girls are more physically adept than I’ll ever be, but let’s see them integrate a differential equation. Not so tough then, huh? 

Just kidding. I don’t remember how to do differential equations. 

Despite the Firecrackers’ shot of adrenaline, the Hoosiers looked listless coming out of the break. The Illini ripped off a 10-4 scoring run to lead 48-39 and appeared to be in complete control.  

When the Hoosiers defeated the Illini 80-65 on the road Jan. 19, Illinois deployed the curious defensive strategy of not double-teaming Indiana star senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. Saturday, Jackson-Davis couldn’t hold the ball for more than a second before half the population of Illinois was guarding him.  

Naturally, he finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. 

While Jackson-Davis was predictably the key to the Hoosiers’ success, his efforts were bolstered by 13 points from freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and 12 from graduate forward Miller Kopp.  

Kopp’s four 3-pointers helped keep Indiana in the game when it appeared to be slipping away. His experience and confidence was a steadying hand for the Hoosiers. 

Then there was Hood-Schifino. 

Some games Hood-Schifino is a walking bucket; some games he’s a walking turnover. Watching Hood-Schifino is like trying an unfamiliar dish on a menu full of items you can’t pronounce. Your meal could be pleasantly zesty; you could also end up chugging three glasses of water and using 12 napkins to wipe your eyes and nose.  

Against Illinois, Hood-Schifino wasn’t exactly a model of efficiency, shooting 5-17 from the field. It got so bad that the crowd began audibly sighing when Hood-Schifino pulled up for a heavily contested jumper.  

Yet despite his rough shooting night, Hood-Schifino was Indiana’s second-leading scorer. The Hoosiers might have squandered a few possessions because Hood-Schifino didn’t pass the ball — OK, maybe more than a few — but it’s not like his teammates outside of Jackson-Davis or Kopp posed much of a threat to the Illini defense.  

Hood-Schifino nearly cost the Hoosiers the game multiple times. He also arguably won it for them.  

That’s sort of how Indiana has had to play lately. Almost no strategy on either side of the ball has worked to perfection, so sometimes the Hoosiers simply have to keep chipping away until the dam breaks — or they do.  

Honestly, it’s pretty inspirational. It makes me feel like I can do anything.  

Except jumping rope or doing math. I fear the tweens have me beat there.  

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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