Trayce Jackson-Davis is becoming the embodiment of Indiana’s passion, swagger

  • 11/28/2021 8:08 am in

There were eight minutes left in the first half when Indiana found itself knee-deep in an onslaught. Marshall had embarked on a 17-0 run to take a 12-point lead. Marshall was matching Indiana’s intensity and energy. And for the first time all season, Indiana’s defense was falling apart.

Around that time, though, Trayce Jackson-Davis approached Indiana point guard Xavier Johnson on the bench.

“Yo, (we) need to pick it up when we go back in,” Jackson-Davis told Johnson.

Jackson-Davis and Johnson both checked in shortly thereafter. In the final six minutes of the half, Indiana went on a 19-8 run. During that stretch, Jackson-Davis scored eight points. Johnson added six points and one assist. The Hoosiers went into halftime down by just one and had undeniably seized the momentum.

This swing of energy is important for more than one reason. This was the type of situation that Indiana often folded in last season. If they were hit in the mouth — whether it be against Michigan State or Rutgers — they let things unravel quickly and were unable to recover.

But on Saturday, that wasn’t the case. Indiana showed fight. The run at the end of the first half carried over the rest of the game, where Indiana surged to a 90-79 victory to improve to 6-0. Yes, Marshall is a team that Indiana should beat, but the Green Herd were 4-1 and Indiana found a way to respond in a way they couldn’t last season.

“We were challenged,” Woodson said. “I want to see who is going to step up and make plays, and tonight I thought we did in the second half.”

In a way, it seemed to signal part of the DNA of Mike Woodson’s team. They’ve taken on a newfound persona, brimming with grit, energy and passion. Over the last few seasons, Indiana has lacked a certain bravado. They were often outmuscled in games.

On Saturday, no one was a better embodiment of those traits than Jackson-Davis. It wasn’t only that he scored an Assembly Hall record 43 points, but the fact that he was a chest-pounding, roof-raising, swagger-filled leader.

It speaks to the evolution of Jackson-Davis. In his first two seasons at IU, a criticism of Jackson-Davis was that he sometimes wouldn’t show his vitality. And, as Woodson noticed, it wasn’t just Jackson-Davis. Woodson saw a lack of swagger. When Woodson initially met with some players, they couldn’t even look him in the eye.

“When I took over the team, this team didn’t say a whole lot,” Woodson said. “And I told them, it’s okay to talk some trash amongst each other.”

It’s a confidence that’s come not only from Woodson but as a result of Jackson-Davis’ continued maturation and development as an All-American. As a freshman, Jackson-Davis said he “kind of held his tongue,” being the new guy. Last season, he felt he improved, but “not to the best of my abilities.”

Shortly after Jackson-Davis decided to return for his junior season, Woodson told him he’d be a captain. And now Jackson-Davis has become increasingly comfortable in his own voice. He’s texting teammates to make sure that they’re on time. He lets them know that he’s around to talk if needed.

“I’ve taken the full pledge of trying to lead guys,” Jackson-Davis said. “Especially the younger guys to do the right thing.”

On Saturday, that’s why Jackson-Davis went up to Johnson amid Marshall’s run. That’s why, in the first half, Jackson-Davis patted Jordan Geronimo on the head and told him “let’s go, you’re good” after the sophomore had a rough stretch. That’s why, even when he was on the bench, he was up clapping to try to get his team going. That’s why, in the second half, Jackson-Davis was waving his hands in the air to ignite the crowd. And that’s why, when asked if he needed a break, Jackson-Davis told Woodson multiple times he didn’t want to come out.

That confidence wasn’t only apparent in the way he carried himself, but also in his dominant performance. For a majority of the game, Marshall opted to single-cover Jackson-Davis and he made them pay. There were dunks, alley-oops and jumphooks. At one point, Johnson was disrespected by the fact that Jackson-Davis wasn’t being double-teamed.

“I’m like ‘go get 40 (points), brother,” Johnson said.

In the second half, there were moments where Marshall finally elected to double-team. But Jackson-Davis flashed his passing ability, hitting shooters on the perimeter. Along with his 43 points, Jackson-Davis finished with four assists, five rebounds, five blocks, 7-of-9 shooting from the line and 18-of-24 from the field.

It led to arguably Indiana’s best offensive performance of the season and set the blueprint for what could make the Hoosiers a dangerous offensive team. If teams single-cover Jackson-Davis, he will dominate. If they double-team, he can kick it out to the perimeter to Miller Kopp or Parker Stewart, who combined for 3-of-6 shooting from deep. On Saturday, Indiana shot 58 percent from the field and 53 percent from three.

“I think we spaced the floor a lot better than we did last year, and we have shooters everywhere,” Jackson-Davis said. “So you can’t just double-down, triple-down and sag and claw at the lane as much as we could last year.”

But most importantly, Saturday was a reminder of how Jackson-Davis unlocks Indiana’s potential in more ways than one. He’s not afraid to be demonstrative. He’s not hesitant to speak up. It was again evident when he showed some flair with a windmill dunk to punctuate Saturday’s victory.

It’s an energy that has permeated the team. Players are often diving on the floor and scrapping for loose balls. Woodson has made progress in his campaign to make his team more outgoing. Jackson-Davis is a big part of that.

“I got everybody talking now,” Woodson said. “They talk trash to me now.”

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