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Hoosiers Build Big Lead, Hold On to Win Late

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 09, 2021 - forward Trayce Jackson-Davis #23 of the Indiana Hoosiers...
BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 09, 2021 - forward Trayce Jackson-Davis #23 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game between the Eastern Michigan Eagles and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics(Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics | Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athleti)
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 12:16 AM EST
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – They cheered. Of course, they did. Mike Woodson was back – and has the game ball to prove it.

Dane Fife was back. Trayce Jackson-Davis was back. And best of all for those who love an Indiana basketball atmosphere that rates among the nation’s best, the Simon-Skjodt Assembly Hall crowd was back in all its raucous frenzy during the Hoosiers’ 68-62 season-opening victory over Eastern Michigan Tuesday night. “We were happy to have the fans back,” Jackson-Davis said. “It helped us. It helped get (Eastern Michigan) out of their rhythm. When we needed a basket or a stop, they were our sixth man.” 

This was about setting a new-coaching-era tone, and if it came with unwanted Cream ‘n Crimson drama -- a 21-point, second-half lead was cut to one -- it served as a reminder that plenty of work remains. “I like the way we played in spurts and made the plays down the stretch,” Woodson said. “We were challenged tonight. We hadn’t been challenged in our three exhibitions. “Our guys stepped up and did what they needed to do.” With Woodson (a former IU All-America) as head coach, Fife (a former Hoosier standout) as an assistant coach and Jackson-Davis as All-America forward, this was the first chance to put substance to all the preseason optimism. Moments of dominance mixed with inconsistency, but the promise is there. “We were up by 21 and didn’t step on their throats like we should have,” Jackson-Davis said. “It was simple things like not switching on defense. We’ll work on it. It’s good to get a W. We’ll take it.” 

What does Woodson ball look like? Consider this combination of ferocious defense, attacking offense and position-less versatility. Early in the second half, forward Race Thompson forced a steal, drove the court and tossed a pass to a streaking Jackson-Davis for a dunk and a 44-24 second-half lead. Then there was Jackson-Davis’ block and sprint the court for dunk off a Xavier Johnson pass. It was part of a 21-point, 14-rebound effort that showcased his best-shape-of-his-life commitment. “I have to bring it every night,” Jackson-Davis said. “Like Coach Woodson told me, if I don’t, we won’t go.” Woodson’s NBA roots demand a style of free-flowing, strong-shooting offense and tenacious, in-your-face defense. And so … Three-point relentlessness? To a point. Four of IU’s first six shots were three-pointers, with guard Parker Stewart making two of them. The Hoosiers finished 4-for-24, the same as they did during their recent closed scrimmage against Belmont. “We still have work to do,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get back in the gym. “We have shooters. Parker is a great shooter. Miller (Kopp) is a great shooter. We have to find them shots. We have to knock down shots.” Woodson wants good three-points shots. “I want them to have confidence in shooting them,” he said, “but three or four were unnecessary. We should have milked the clock and worked to get a better shot. “My job is to make sure they know what they’re doing. We have a lot of moments we have to fix.” Stifling defense? Check -- for the first half. Eastern Michigan opened 0-for-11 from the field with four turnovers. It only scored 19 first-half points, then rallied for 43 in the second. What happened? “In the first half, our switching was good,” Woodson said. “We contested everything and got up in them. “In the second half, we got soft. We were comfortable with the lead and it changed drastically. “We have to learn from that.” Let the record show that the first starting lineup under Woodson was Jackson-Davis, Thompson, Stewart, Johnson and Miller Kopp. But this was far from a five-man rotation. Woodson hopes to play as many as 10, and will once center Michael Durr returns from injury. Nine played Tuesday night and everybody scored at least one point or grabbed at least one rebound. Johnson added 14 points. Thompson had 10 rebounds. 

IU only committed eight turnovers. The goal is 12 or less, and if the Hoosiers surpass 12, “I will punish them a little bit,” Woodson said with a smile. Eastern Michigan, which shot 31 percent from the field, committed 13 turnovers and never led, was paced by Noah Farrakhan’s 18 points, although he needed 21 shots to do that. Jackson-Davis attacked the basket seconds into the game. He missed, but showed the aggression vital to IU success. Then Stewart drained a pair of three-pointers to spark the Hoosiers to a 10-0 lead. Eastern Michigan closed within 12-10 before a 9-0 surge (five points from Rob Phinisee, four from Tamar Bates) produced a 21-10 Hoosier advantage. IU kept pushing. It led 32-15 with four minutes left in the half and reached halftime ahead 36-19 courtesy of Kopp’s three-point play with 1.8 seconds remaining. The Hoosiers shot 43.6 percent from the field (4-for-15 from three-point range) with six turnovers. They held Eastern Michigan to 7-for-31 shooting with eight turnovers. IU pushed ahead by 21 early in the second half. Eastern Michigan surged to within 11, then eight. The crowd murmured. Then Jordan Geronimo dunked, Trey Galloway scored, the Golden Eagles turned it over, Bates drained a pair of free throws and Cream ‘n Crimson order was restored. And then it wasn’t. A 27-12 Eastern Michigan run cut that 21-point lead to five with four minutes left. The Golden Eagles got within one at 59-58 with 2:36 left. Then Jackson-Davis got inside and got the ball to Thompson for a reverse layup. IU forced a turnover. Thompson hit a free throw, but was called for a foul on an Eastern Michigan three-point attempt with 1:39 left and the Hoosiers ahead 62-58. Farrakhan made just one of the three free-throw attempts. Jackson-Davis followed with a free throw. Phinisee grabbed a rebound that led to a Johnson free throw. Jackson-Davis hit another free throw. Crisis was averted. The Woodson era was off to a winning start. “It feels good to be 1-0,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go.” A pause. “Yes, I will keep the ball as a souvenir.”

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