BLOOMINGTON – Jackson State has tried to make this game ugly and slow and Indiana has not taken the bait.
The Tigers came out running zone a significant number of possessions, hoping to make Indiana hit from the outside in order to win the game. That might have made this game somewhat difficult for the Hoosiers if this were last season, but it's a new day in Bloomington and Indiana leads 34-17 at the break.
Indiana responded to the visitors' slowdown tactics by speeding the ball up on offense and doing everything it could to get out in transition and speed the game back up. The gambit worked and the Hoosiers scored 10 fastbreak points. Point guard Xavier Johnson was the key to the transition, pushing the ball at every opportunity and finding ways to score at the rim when Jackson State failed to stop the ball. Johnson has eight points on 4 for 5 from the field at halftime and he has driven to the rim for layups four times. The Pittsburgh transfer also made the smart play on one particular fastbreak in which his path to the rim was blocked: he kicked the ball out to the wing, where Miller Kopp was trailing the play, and Kopp nailed the 3. It still feels somewhat shocking when Indiana knocks down that type of shot because it happened so rarely last season, especially in the season-ending six-game losing streak. The specter of those brick-happy Archie Miller-Era teams is starting to wash away, bit by bit.
Indiana shot 57% as a team in the opening half, while the Tigers managed only 19%, the second straight game in which the Hoosiers have stifled their opponent in the opening half. For the second straight night, I would say that's more because of opponent quality than anything Indiana is doing especially well on the defensive end, but it does seem pretty safe to say the Hoosiers have a fairly ferocious interior defensive presence. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Michael Durr and Race Thompson are all hunting blocks and it's difficult for any but the more skilled players to find room on the interior against Indiana. It doesn't hurt that Jackson State is among the worst teams in the country in 2-point shooting (the Tigers are at 17% from inside the arc tonight), of course.
Indiana suffered through a fairly lengthy offensive malaise at the end of the first half, going 4:20 without a basket until Parker Stewart hit a 3 out of an IU timeout to get things back on track. Stewart remains Indiana's best and most confident outside shooter, though Kopp was hunting his shot through most of the half, as if he'd been dictated to do so by the IU coaches, who are trying to get him on track. Indiana will almost certainly win this game, but it would be nice to see Kopp stick a few from deep in the second half, just to let him see the ball go through the hoop.