ALBANY, NY — As the clock wound down in MVP Arena, senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis sat on the bench, fighting a losing battle with the tears in his eyes.
Jackson-Davis sat the last minute and a half of No. 4 Indiana men’s basketball’s 85-69 defeat at the hands of the No. 5 University of Miami on Sunday, the only time all night he wasn’t on the floor.
He watched as Miami senior guard Jordan Miller flew through the lane, slamming home two fast break dunks as Indiana desperately attempted to press before the game ended. He watched as Indiana missed nine consecutive shots in a bid to make the game close, or at least respectable, in the last few minutes. He watched as his Indiana career came to a close.
“It's really special to me to have the Indiana fans on your back and just cheering for you and giving them hope,” Jackson-Davis said in a postgame press conference. “It's something that this program hasn't had in a while. It was really cool to be part of that and be part of that experience.”
Indiana’s loss Sunday came down to effort. Despite a taller and bigger roster, the Hurricanes outrebounded the Hoosiers 48-31. An eight-board advantage on the offensive glass proved to be especially killer as Miami scored 29 second-chance points.
For far too long in the second half, the energy out of Indiana’s side wasn’t enough. Miami, a much smaller and quicker team, ran circles around the Hoosiers on the boards. Sophomore Norchad Omier, a 6-foot-7 forward — the same size as senior forward Miller Kopp — grabbed eight offensive rebounds, routinely boxing out the much bigger Indiana forwards.
“The energy level to start the game, it wasn’t as high as it probably needed to be,” sophomore guard Tamar Bates said. “We did pick it up over time, but we just weren’t able to sustain it tonight.”
A late run of energy was helpful for Indiana. Hood-Schifino sunk three consecutive 3-pointers, providing a temporary blast of hope for the Hoosier fans behind Indiana’s bench. But Indiana’s press, effective in its Big Ten Tournament loss to Penn State on March 11, couldn’t slow the speedy Hurricanes, and several breakaway slams were the dagger. The burst came too little, too late.
“What got us back in the game is we were playing hard on the defensive end of the floor and getting quick baskets, quick screen, quick points in the post,” Jackson-Davis said. “Our defense was leading the offense. Kind of got away from us. They hit a few tough shots. They hit some shots, got some rebounds on the offensive end of the floor that got them extra possessions.”
Indiana’s season wrapped up with its loss Sunday, falling short of the Sweet 16 once again — a round it hasn’t reached since 2016.
Still, Indiana made steps forward this season. Its win Friday was its first in the main draw of the tournament since that Sweet 16 run, and Indiana appears well on its way to more success after head coach Mike Woodson’s second season.
“I truly believe that this team had a legitimate shot (at the championship),” Woodson said. “As a coach, I put so much pressure and heat on myself to get teams over the hump, so I've got to take some responsibility for this one tonight.”
But Indiana needed more Sunday from not just Jackson-Davis, but the rest of the roster as well. Indiana needed to box out more on defense and needed more from its bench, which was scoreless Sunday.
The blame for the effort and the scrutiny that will come over the lack thereof will not land on Jackson-Davis' shoulders. His final game concluded with 23 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
His career, chock full of accolades, awards and records, will end short of one notable achievement — a banner.
No Big Ten title, no deep NCAA Tournament run. He came back for this year for the team honors, pointing at Indiana’s old banners during his senior day speech, noting he still wanted to win one.
At Indiana’s preseason media day in September, Jackson-Davis made it clear: individual legacies don’t matter as much as winning.
“I have kind of set the stone of my individual legacy, being an All-American and doing all those things, but those don't really matter if you don't win something here,” Jackson-Davis said then. “Winning is a big thing here. ... If I do that, I know everything else will take care of itself.”
How his career will be viewed remains to be seen. He’ll finish as the leader in program history in blocks, the leader in rebounds and the third-leading scorer.
For Indiana this season, his last in the cream and crimson, Jackson-Davis was the key.
“He's meant a lot to this program,” Woodson said. “I don't think we're sitting here today if it wasn't for Trayce Jackson-Davis.”