MINNEAPOLIS — Overdue for a tough-minded performance on the road, Indiana heeded coach Archie Miller’s call to “make the game a little bit grimy.”
Minnesota stumbled right in to the muck.
Trayce Jackson-Davis had 27 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs, to lead Indiana’s second-half takeover of Minnesota for a critical 68-56 victory on Wednesday night.
“I was just energized. My teammates really hyped me up in practice. They put a big emphasis on pounding the ball inside, and I think we did that really well,” said Jackson-Davis, who leads all Big Ten freshmen in scoring.
Minnesota native Race Thompson added nine points and 10 rebounds and Devonte Green scored 11 points for the Hoosiers (17-9, 7-8), who moved out of the bottom four of the conference with just their second win in their last seven games.
“Just grit. We wanted it really bad,” Thompson said.
Payton Willis and Marcus Carr each scored 12 points for the Gophers (12-13, 6-9), who went just 4 for 25 from 3-point range and 10 for 19 from the free-throw line. Daniel Oturu added 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Gophers, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gabe Kalscheur missed eight of his nine 3-point attempts and finished with six points.
“Kalscheur’s not going to shoot like that probably ever again, so we were a little bit fortunate,” Miller said.
Thompson’s pair of free throws with 16:06 left gave the Hoosiers the lead for the first time in more than 19 minutes, and they fired up their defense from there. Kalscheur, who’s shooting about 8% worse from long range this season than in his freshman year, missed three 3-pointers on the same possession. Oturu grabbed the rebound of the third clank, drew a foul and, fittingly, missed both free throws to yield zero points for all that hustle.
“You have to go hard at everything else when shots aren’t falling,” Willis said, later adding: “I don’t know what it was, but there’s clearly some frustration out there.”
Jackson-Davis teamed with Thompson to play stifling defense around the rim on Oturu, who has had his way with most Big Ten big men as the second-leading scorer in the league.
“I’ve played against him since I was in eighth grade. so we had a pretty good game plan going in,” Thompson said.
Jackson-Davis made just as much of an impact with the ball, of course, including a one-handed slam off a slick one-handed pass to the paint from Green.
Every time the Gophers were in position to surge back in front, they simply couldn’t produce a swish. With 3:32 remaining, Thompson put the seal on his inspired performance in his home state by muscling his way past Oturu for a layup and a three-point play after the foul for a 60-54 lead.
Both teams badly needed to win this game for the viability of their NCAA Tournament bids. Though there was more inherent value in victory for Hoosiers on the road, the Gophers were in the market for a morale boost after the crushing loss to Iowa on their home court three days ago. The Hawkeyes outscored them 11-0 over the final 5:25 of that game to win 58-55.
The Gophers have played steady defense this season, which helped them build a 23-13 lead over the first quarter of the game. They just didn’t make enough baskets to take control, though, in a first half marked by their missed jumpers, Indiana’s missed layups and even a handful of apparent misses by the officials that had the fans howling about perplexing fouls called on the Gophers.
The Gophers had 13 offensive rebounds and not a single second-chance point.
“We couldn’t grasp that we needed to drive the ball, but a lot of that had to do with their defense as well, so give them credit,” coach Richard Pitino said.
Thompson, who played at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School about 15 miles west of Williams Arena, had a request list for family and friends of about 20 tickets. His brother, True, plays football for the Gophers, as did his father, Darrell, who’s the program’s all-time leading rusher.
“This game just means a little bit more to me,” Thompson said.
Indiana: Miller has lamented his team’s lack of fight away from the comfort of Assembly Hall, with the six road losses coming by an average margin of 15.5 points, but this was a determined response to the 89-65 clunker of a defeat at Michigan on Sunday.
Minnesota: With capable shooters Kalscheur, Willis and Carr on the perimeter, Pitino and his staff have emphasized a 3-point-heavy strategy this season that has not been paying off. Against an Indiana team that entered the evening with the second-worst 3-point defense in the conference, the Gophers posted their second-worst 3-point percentage (16.0) of the season.
“I’m shocked that Gabe goes 1 for 9, and I thought he had some good looks,” Pitino said.
Indiana: Hosts ninth-ranked Penn State on Sunday afternoon. The Hoosiers lost 64-49 on Jan. 29 to the Nittany Lions on the road in the first matchup.
Minnesota: Plays at last-place Northwestern on Sunday night. The Gophers are 1-8 on the road this season. They beat the Wildcats 77-68 at home on Jan. 5.