The Indiana Hoosiers had what could best be described as a “sloppy” first half against the North Alabama Lions. The Hoosiers committed nine turnovers, tied on the boards with just 12 for each team, and allowed the Lions to shoot 7-of-10 from three-point range. Yet despite all that, the Hoosiers held a seven-point lead at half before turning up the defensive intensity in the second half to win 91-65.
So how did Indiana survive that first half?
Believe it or not, it was great free throw shooting that kept the Hoosiers afloat in the first half. Indiana made 17-of-20 (85%) foul shots during the first 20 minutes compared to North Alabama’s 5-of-6 foul shooting.
It didn’t turn out to be just a first half trend as the Hoosiers finished the game having made 37 out of their 45 free throw attempts (82.2%), including an incredible 14-of-15 foul shooting performance from Freshman Forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
“He’s a unique player,” said Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller. “I’ve been telling him since 10th grade, he’s going to get fouled a ton (because he’s a left-handed post player). Proud of him tonight, 14 of 15 from the line, that’s a huge deal.”
Jackson-Davis, who made just 3-of-6 from the foul line during the Hoosiers first two games, didn’t just excel at the free throw line on Tuesday night. He also made 3-of-4 field goal attempts to give him a game-high 20 points while also leading everyone in rebounds (8) and tying for most blocks (3) with Race Thompson.
“Coach really put an emphasis on not starting the ball so far down low, but kind of putting it up. Less room for error,” said Jackson-Davis about his improved shooting, especially from the foul line. “It was really (about) concentration for me, and I did really well tonight.”
Tuesday night’s foul shooting performance wasn’t just a product of Jackson-Davis’ amazing night. Nine of the 10 Hoosiers that played made multiple free throws and all but De’Ron Davis (who was still a decent 4-of-6) missed no more than one free throw during the game.
The reason this is so noteworthy is because last season’s Indiana Hoosiers were a rather bad foul shooting team, hitting 455-of-695 (65.5%) over the course of the season. In addition, they had just as many games shooting above 70% as they did games shooting below 60% (12 for both).
That’s what made the free throw shooting display against North Alabama so impressive, as even if you remove the players who didn’t play the previous season, you are left with a combined 16-of-21 (76.2%) from Davis (4-of-6), Thompson (3-of-4), Justin Smith (3-of-4), Al Durham (3-of-3), and Rob Phinisee (3-of-4).
For comparison, last season Davis shot 41-of-71 (57.7%), Thompson shot 2-of-4 (50.0%), Smith shot 36-of-70 (51.4%), Durham shot 54-of-73 (74.0%, which was the highest on the team), and Phinisee shot 35-of-53 (66.0%).
Admittedly one game doesn’t guarantee this will be a much better foul shooting team than the 2018-2019 team (which despite a low season percentage did go 16-for-16 in a game against Maryland). However, for now the Hoosiers are shooting 76% through their first three games and have two games above 70%, having shot 22-of-30 (73.3%) against Portland State on Saturday. If the Hoosiers are to succeed this season, this will need to be a trend that continues.