BLOOMINGTON – Former Indiana star Mike Woodson's return to the Big Ten as a coach began as poorly as he could have imagined.
Midway through the first half of the Hoosiers' matchup against Nebraska on Saturday at Assembly Hall, Woodson's team trailed by 10 and had already committed seven turnovers.
“We came out very slow and not really into the game, I mean we were flat,” Woodson said. “It's the first time I've seen that (from this team). I tried to let them play their way out.”
The Hoosiers rewarded Woodson's faith in them and shook off the early doldrums to defeat the Cornhuskers, who have occupied the conference basement two straight years, 68-55. Race Thompson had his third double-double of the season for the Hoosiers with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Tamar Bates had a career-high 13 points.
Bates played a central role in the game's biggest stretch, which saw the Hoosiers (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) turn a 16-6 deficit into a 26-22 halftime lead. The freshman got the run started with a flying layup in transition off a nice pass from Anthony Leal and added three 3-pointers in a 4:27 stretch that propelled the Hoosiers into the lead for good.
Bates went 0 for 4 from long range in Indiana's loss to Syracuse on Tuesday.
“Shooters shoot,” Bates said. “I'm going to keep shooting the ball. I can miss 10 3s, I'm going to shoot the 11th one. It really doesn't matter to me. It doesn't matter. ... It's just staying confident, believing in myself and the fact that my teammates have that belief in me that they're going to keep swinging it to me.”
Indiana's game-turning 20-6 run to close the first half was accomplished almost entirely by its reserves: 18 of the 20 points came from reserves, with the exception of a steal and fast-break dunk for Thompson that knotted the score at 20. A Bates 3 put the Hoosiers up 23-20, and Indiana never trailed again.
In addition to Bates' 11 points in that stretch, Leal drilled a 3, forward Jordan Geronimo added a putback layup and center Michael Durr scored from the post.
“Our bench can start on (some) Big Ten teams,” Thompson said. “We have starters coming off the bench. Knowing we have Scoop (Bates) coming off the bench, Anthony, Jordan, anybody coming off the bench that we can believe in them and trust them to make shots, make plays and be in the right spots. I think that's just what makes a good team.”
Indiana's starters pressed the advantage in the second half, opening up the lead behind 3-pointers from guard Parker Stewart, who contributed nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc. His third 3 of the half came from the top of the key and capped an 8-0 run, which put the Hoosiers in front 51-36.
The Cornhuskers (5-4, 0-1) pressed down the stretch, but the Hoosiers, who had turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, kept control of the ball and made enough free throws to win. They had only four turnovers in the final 20 minutes and went 14 of 17 at the line.
After a quiet start, Trayce Jackson-Davis scored eight points in the last 7:46 to keep Indiana comfortably in front. The All-American totaled 14, tying him with Victor Oladipo for 42nd place on the all-time IU scoring list with 1,117 points, and seven rebounds.