Just four days after Indiana men’s basketball’s porous defense allowed Penn State to run away with a victory, it returned to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday looking like a different team.
Indiana had little issue dealing with No. 18 Wisconsin’s offense, earning a much-needed 63-45 victory to snap a three-game losing streak.
“Our backs were somewhat against the wall, and losing three in a row is not fun for anybody,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “But our guys still had good spirits coming into practice, and it was a nice carryover today. We played Indiana defense the way I think we should be playing.”
The Hoosiers held the Badgers to just 32% shooting from the field. Despite making just one 3-pointer, Indiana’s offense, which shot 47%, helped the Hoosiers run away with the game late.
The two sides broke out in a defensive battle from the start, scoring just six points combined in the first five minutes. They traded blows and missed shots, struggling to swing the momentum either way.
After Wednesday’s poor defensive showing, when Indiana allowed 18 Penn State 3-pointers, Saturday was a chance to bounce back on that side of the ball. The Hoosiers looked better in nearly all facets of the game — they moved better, rotated better and did a better job of playing physically. Wisconsin didn’t have an answer.
“There’s been a lot of practice,” Woodson said. “A lot of yelling and screaming and trying to get things accomplished in practice. I thought our guys answered the bell tonight.”
The Badgers shot 33% in the first half, only staying in the game because the Hoosiers shot an even worse 30%, and Indiana entered the break with a 21-20 lead. Neither team could find rhythm, shooting balls that bounced off the rim or sometimes never touched it at all.
“I know defense wins basketball games, and I’ve been about enough games where neither team could score the basketball and it’s a dogfight,” Woodson said. “You know, everybody is scratching and scraping and trying to get a bucket and can’t get it, and that’s how it was the first helped. I don’t mind games like that.”
For a team that had allowed more than 80 points in three straight games, Indiana’s defensive performance was a positive sign, far outweighing the offensive struggles. Wisconsin’s 45 points is the lowest total Indiana has allowed this season, marking a return to the defense-first style the Hoosiers employed under Woodson last season.
The Hoosiers picked up a shot of energy from junior forward Jordan Geronimo, who had his second career double-double.
“I thought he played so within himself tonight,” Woodson said. “It wasn’t even funny. He did a lot of good things defensively. He rebounded the ball. He finished around the rim and we’re going to need that.”
Geronimo’s performance was one of his best this season, scoring 12 points and adding 11 boards, much needed after a rough start to 2023, including a scoreless game against Northwestern.
“I just have a short memory,” Geronimo said. “Play hard, play physical and make the right play. So, I know what I have those possessions where I don’t play well, I’m just like, ‘Hey, next possession, let’s do it.’”
In the second half, Indiana opened the offensive floodgates. It started the half on an 18-2 run, with the offense running smoother and earning better looks than it did to start.
The hustle the defense produced translated into offense. On one series, Geronimo grabbed a defensive rebound and took the ball coast-to-coast, blowing past a Wisconsin defender to attempt a layup. When he missed, he grabbed the offensive board and powered through Wisconsin’s defense again to make the put-back.
The icing came from senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who had three late dunks to put at an exclamation point on his 18-point, 12-rebound double-double, including a reverse slam with four minutes left. It was the first dunk for an Indiana player since the loss to Iowa on Jan. 5.
Indiana will look to play off Saturday’s performance next time out, when it travels to play Illinois at 8:30 pm Thursday in Champaign, Illinois.
Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.