IU men hope to peak for Big Ten tournament

Trayce Jackson-Davis, the 6-foot-9 Indiana forward, has become a basketball philosopher.

Tuesday, the same day he was named second-team All-Big Ten and chosen for the league’s all-defensive team, he offered up the bad-news summary that best explains why his team is 18-12 and not something more like 22-8 entering the conference tournament.

“It’s all coming down to one possession,” said Jackson-Davis, who averages 17.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. “One possession can kill you.”

As the Hoosiers approach the end of their first season under coach Mike Woodson and prepare for an opening-round game against 17-13 Michigan at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Thursday at 11:30 a.m., they have repeatedly been done in by late-game faltering.

Over and over, IU has lost the close ones, eight times falling in overtime or after surrendering late-game leads. They are the kings of shoulda, coulda, from a 112-110 double OT defeat to Syracuse Nov. 30 right up until last Saturday’s 69-67 regular-season loss to nationally ranked Purdue.

In-between, the Hoosiers almost beat nationally ranked Wisconsin twice, Penn State, Northwestern (when five players were suspended), Ohio State and Rutgers.

Woodson was at a loss to explain how so many games slipped away.

“We executed the game plan,” he said. “We came up empty.”

The Hoosiers just could not finish, so many times playing well enough to win for 38 minutes and not for two minutes. Other teams, Woodson said, seemed to make that one difference-making play versus IU.

Still, IU players think that they can produce a good enough showing in the league tourney to be invited into NCAA play the next week.

“I think as a team we know what we have to do,” said forward Race Thompson, who averages 11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds. We’re here to win the tournament.”

Assignment No. 1 is beating Michigan. The Wolverines bested IU, 80-62, Jan. 23 at Assembly Hall, not one of those contests that got away at the end, but one the Hoosiers were not in for long.

“We didn’t show up to play,” Woodson said. “It wasn’t pretty watching the game yesterday (Monday on film), I’ll tell you that.”

Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, a 7-1, 260-pound sophomore, ate up the Hoosiers, scoring 25 points and gathering 9 rebounds that day.

“He came in and had a monster game,” Woodson said. “I just thought he was the X factor.”

Whether it is an X, Y or Z factor or not, Michigan’s coach Juwan Howard will be back on the bench. Howard was suspended for five games and fined $40,000 because he threw a punch at a Wisconsin assistant coach in the handshake line after a Feb. 20 loss.

Woodson expects Michigan to divvy up most of the minutes among six or seven players. It seems likely Trey Galloway, out for weeks with an injury, will also miss this contest for IU.

The last time Indiana met Michigan, three days after a satisfying, upset win over Purdue, the Hoosiers admit they may not have come down from the clouds above Bloomington.

“We took them for granted,” Jackson-Davis said, “and they came in and spanked us.” IU will be “looking for revenge.”

IU is one loss away from being designated for NIT participation and might need two wins for NCAA consideration, including a victory over waiting-with-a-bye Illinois Friday.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Jackson-Davis said. “A lot of people (other teams) wish they were in this position.”

“This position” is the bubble, on the edge of being one of the 68 teams invited to the NCAAs. Indiana can shed its reputation for not being able to win the close ones at just the right time and catch fire in the Big Ten tournament, or the Hoosiers will be out of chances.

“We know we can beat these teams,” Thompson said. “We know we can play with any team in the country on any given night.”

He hopes all the way to the finish.