There were blocks, cubes and cubes, and features prominent from every aspect of the game. But perhaps not the best representation of Indiana’s gorgeous night was so full of flash and grandeur. It was simple and basic basketball, executed to perfection.
With less than 10 minutes left in the second half and Indiana holding a 35-point lead, Northern Illinois put all the pressure on. The first option was not there for Jordan Jeronimo, who was passing the ball inside. He’s been patient, though, waiting for Tamar Bates to storm toward baseline. Bates grabbed the ball, and as the double team converged, he softly flipped the ball over to Rob Venety, who was cutting halfway through the ground. Phinisee took one dribble and fired arrows at Trey Galloway in the corner, who knocked out a triple pointer.
On Friday night, Indiana State was everything last season wasn’t. They played with balance, they played with energy, they played with the body. The ball moved at a fast pace when attacking. They used their height and athleticism in defense. The result was an 85-49 win over Northern Illinois in a game that Indiana dominated from start to finish.
Everything seemed to be in perfect harmony.
“I thought tonight was a total team effort,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “I thought everyone who played tonight gave us an effort and did exactly what we asked them to do, and it was kind of nice to see.”
Friday’s performance was a glimpse into the dynamic playing style on both sides of the floor that Woodson has been envisioning since taking the job at Indiana. He has made it clear that he wants to lay a foundation for defense. He coached her so early in the drills that he wouldn’t let his players switch, forcing them to stay in front of their man.
And entered northern Illinois on Friday after his surprise victory over Washington, where he shot 52 percent of three and goalkeeper Trendon Hankerson 28 points. On Friday, the Indiana NIU held just 18 percent of three and 30 percent of the field. Hankerson fired 1 of 8 from the field. It was the product of Indiana communication and versatility. For example, in the first half, center Michael Dor turned into a goalkeeper on the ocean but was able to hold his ground.
“I thought we did a great job playing around them because they’re so good at penetrating basketball and doing rebounding,” Woodson said. “And I think we did a great job moving our feet and keeping them in front of us.”
Offensively, Trayce Jackson-Davis not only played like an All-American, but also the fact that there were complementing pieces all around him. In 26 minutes, Jackson-Davis scored 19 points, seven rebounds, and seven blocks. But there was also Xavier Johnson, who efficiently led the attack, scored 13 points in a 4 out of 5 shot from the field and provided three assists. Race Thompson achieved a double-double in just 16 minutes. Hoosiers totaled 37 bench points.
Equally important, the formula for the Indiana offense to operate was successful. There was constant movement on the ocean. Johnson did the maneuvers and turns, many of which resulted in easy buckets. Three-point shooting, a longtime issue for Indiana and one essential to Woodson’s open style of attack, was a respectable 35 percent on Friday. If Indiana can sustain that, opponents will have to choose their poison whether they double up on the Jackson-Davis team and risk leaving someone open to the ocean or gamble with one cover. Even in the first two matches, she managed to push more than Loeb to Geronimo.
“All of these things happen naturally,” Jeronimo said. “It’s not like (there is) a set plays for that kind of thing. But just knowing each other, our inclinations and knowing how to play and what to do. And that’s the chemistry we have.”
It was also clear that Indiana was simply playing with more energy, something Woodson has consistently advocated and something Indiana lacked last season. In the first half alone, Jeronimo spilled to the ground to shoot the ball. Thompson kept his offensive holdings alive of his own free will. Jackson Davis was pushed to the floor as he was hitting his leg on the field.
“I always say to these guys that whatever minutes you get, you make them the most important minutes to help us win basketball games,” Woodson said. “And that’s what they’re doing now.”
More than anything, Friday night provided some validation. Woodson took charge of the program this spring but has already seen his players quickly grasp the concepts. Moreover, this is a team that did not spend much time playing together. Six new players are on the ground this season. Two of those—Tamar Bates and Aldour—were sidelined due to injuries.
Yes, this was against Northern Illinois, a team that Indiana should dominate. But the most famous thing is the way they did it. There were hints of what Indiana might be like – the victory of the Bahamas and the first inning against eastern Michigan. But on Friday it was a complete performance. If this is just the beginning of Indiana’s development, there is reason to be optimistic about the season’s outlook. Now 2-0, that development will get him his first real test against St John’s on Wednesday.
Woodson met his players in the locker room after the match, and ended his post-match comments with two words.
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”