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The Indiana Daily Student

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Trio of veterans leads Indiana men’s basketball to first-round NCAA Tournament win

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ALBANY, NY — Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and Miller Kopp have played a combined 409 career games.

Just 2.2% of that total accounts for NCAA Tournament appearances.

Despite a plethora of experience between the trio of the fourth-year, fifth-year and sixth-year forwards, the Big Dance had loomed foreign until last season. But Friday night in a 71-60 win against Kent State University, Jackson-Davis, Thompson and Kopp looked like they had done it a dozen times before. 

[Related: After getting taste of the NCAA Tournament last year, Indiana men’s basketball wants more]

"These three seniors up here were pretty damn good tonight,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said at the podium after the game.  

Pretty damn good they were indeed. 

The veterans combined for 80% of Indiana’s scoring, 64% of its rebounding and 50% of its assists. They were the only Hoosiers to hit double figures — Jackson-Davis with 24, Thompson 20 and Kopp 13 — and each had a distinct role in their team’s first-round victory.  

Thompson immediately got off to the races, giving the Hoosiers 5 of their first 7 points. He finished the first half with 13 points — off a few rim-shaking dunks and a rare 3-point field goal — along with four rebounds, ultimately finishing the game just one short of a double-double. 

During the first half of the game, Thompson was undoubtedly the most dominant player on the court. And from the get-go, he looked like he belonged. 

“Starting out like that, it just kind of settles you in personally,” Thompson said. “You’re feeling good about yourselves, and that carries over to both sides of the ball on defense. I think it just gets our team going, as well.”  

Thompson concluded Indiana’s 2022 tournament run with a total of 7 points in 41 combined minutes. For the third-year captain, who has weathered his fair share of storms during his time with the program, Friday’s mature, solid performance was fulfilling. 

“To see him come out tonight and play a game like he did is special,” Woodson said. “I mean, it could not have happened to a better person, because he’s a really good young man. I was happy for him, and we needed all of it.” 

[Related: COLUMN: In March, sometimes Indiana men’s basketball has to be the bad guy]

After a 0-3 outing from beyond the arc in Indiana’s loss to Penn State last Saturday — a game that saw dismal 14.3% team 3-point shooting — Kopp played the protagonist in mending those wounds. He went 3-of-6 from long range, completing the simple task of taking advantage of his many opportunities.

"I work on those shots every day, a thousand reps,” Kopp said. “It’s just second nature. So, when I got it, I knew I was shooting it. When it left my hands, I felt good about it.” 

Kopp’s confidence is the catalyst in his play. In fact, he’s a self-proclaimed “delusionally-confident” basketball player amidst a team whose greatest strength lies in possession of that very quality. 

And this time, sporting an upside-down headband — a feature of the accessory that even Thompson was jealous of, according to Kopp — the graduate forward oozed belief and swagger.  

His aggressive defense continued to be an asset, switching off on Kent State’s guards and forwards without hesitation. Kopp’s energy on both ends of the floor was invaluable, and he remained a steady presence during his team-high 36 minutes on the floor. 

The story of Jackson-Davis, though?

“Trayce had his usual game,” Woodson said. 

The Trayce that became the first player to post a 20-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist, 5-block stat line in the NCAA Tournament (and first in Division-I history to do so without committing a foul)? The Trayce that broke a program record for blocks in the Big Dance? The Trayce that pushed the ball and delivered no-look passes in transition carrying a 6-foot-9 frame? 

Just another day in the office. 

He produced a historic 24-point, 11-rebound, 5-assist, 5-block outing, piecing together every opportune stop or score that the Hoosiers needed to win. Even with the countless highlights that Indiana’s newly-crowned consensus First-Team All-American brings on a day-to-day basis, there almost never fails to be a routine time in the game where Jackson-Davis enters a newfound level of pure basketball prowess and goes into takeover mode. 

On Friday night, that burst started with just under nine minutes remaining in the second half, a crucial point for the Hoosiers who had just surrendered a 6-0 run and, in turn, a double-digit lead in less than one minute. 

In what Jackson-Davis coined an “energy play,” he scored 6 consecutive points: a freakish poster dunk, two-handed slam off of a spin move and a crafty layup on the right side of the basket. All of the sudden, Indiana led by 12, and the All-American-shaped beast inside Jackson-Davis had come alive.

“I just try do whatever to help my team win, because I know they feed off my energy,” Jackson-Davis said. “I feel like everything was kind of smooth from there on out.”

Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz), columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) and photographer Alex Paul (@alexpaulphoto) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.
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