ALBANY, N.Y. — No. 4-seeded Indiana men’s basketball was well rested and ready to go Friday.
Late into the night and into early Saturday at MVP Arena in Albany, New York, Indiana entered its first-round matchup with No. 13 Kent State University on nearly a full week’s rest.
Legs rejuvenated, Indiana ran. And ran. When the dust cleared, the Hoosiers had run into the second round with a resounding 71-60 victory thanks to up-tempo offense and plenty of fast breaks.
“We knew they were a hard-nosed, scrappy team, so we came with the mentality of pushing the pace and play harder than them,” freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino said in the locker room after the game. “We were able to push the ball in transition, get the ball inside, and guys hit shots.”
Both in the Big Ten Tournament this season and last season’s NCAA Tournament, lots of travel and quick turnarounds for games left No. 4-seeded Indiana men’s basketball with tired legs. The Hoosiers never made excuses for it, but the wear and tear lent to early exits both times.
Thanks to a season that secured a high seed, rather than facing the possibility of a play-in game like last year, Indiana was able to rest before Friday night.
“It’s big time, just knowing we’re a team that’s in shape,” sophomore guard Tamar Bates said. “We want to get out and turn our defense into offense as much as possible. We had a few missed opportunities tonight, but we converted more times than not.”
Part of that fast tempo in transition comes from senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis' improved skillset this season. The forward’s ability to grab rebounds and immediately run the ball up the court has allowed the rest of the team to run the floor.
Along with his 24 points and five blocked shots, Jackson-Davis had 11 rebounds and five assists — both key numbers to Indiana’s transition play. The Hoosiers ran the floor to the tune of 16 fast break points.
“Not too many big men can block a shot or get a rebound and start a break,” Bates said. “It’s special. We don’t take him for granted at all.”
Of course, a track meet wouldn’t be complete without a Race. Senior forward Race Thompson produced a career night, dropping 20 points and nine rebounds. Thompson and Jackson-Davis, Indiana’s veteran leaders, were essential to Indiana offense, finishing when the guards placed them in position to finish.
Although the guards — Hood-Schifino, Bates and junior Trey Galloway — combined for just 10 points and seven assists, against a team with guards like Kent State’s, their presence was important for Indiana’s win.
Kent State’s two leading scorers, senior guards Sincere Carry and Malique Jacobs, combined for 23 points. Carry’s 15 points led the team.
“They’re gonna make tough shots and take tough shots,” Galloway said of the guards. “Just making it as hard as possible without fouling and staying in front and containing is the biggest thing for me. (Carry’s) a good player and he makes good shots ... as long as I keep contesting, that’s my goal.”
Foul trouble sidelined Hood-Schifino for most of the last eight minutes in the first half. In the past, especially against teams like Kent State who rely heavily on guard play, Hood-Schifino's absence has allowed opponents to dig out of holes or pull ahead with leads.
On Friday, Hood-Schifino left the floor while his team was up 7 points. Despite Kent State slowly chipping away until the deficit was 2, Hood-Schifino watched Indiana build the lead back to 8 points heading into the half.
Bates and Galloway were assigned with the task of picking up slack while Hood-Schifino sat.
“We just knew we had to control the game,” Bates said. “Continue to listen to coach, continue to execute, keep getting stops. Our defense, we feel like we’re really strong on that end of the floor.”
Quicker than a Golden Flash, the Hoosiers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. Indiana will take on the University of Miami at 8:40 p.m. Sunday in MVP Arena.