BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The standard line that comes from every season opener is that players are just glad to play someone else. Sure, practice is fun, but anyone who's ever been on a team knows that beating up on your teammates — or them beating up on you — gets old after a while.
It's nice seeing other jerseys, and for Indiana on Wednesday night, those new targets were the Tennessee Tech players wearing purple and gold. The Hoosiers got the season started in fine fashion, winning 89-59. They played well after a bit of a slow start, running out to a big lead and then holding on to it.
There are things that need to get better, of course, like making a few more three-pointers and a lot more free throws. This wasn't much of a test – Tennessee Tech was No. 314 out of 357 NCAA teams in the Kenpom.com rankings – and several big challenges await next week in the Maui Invitational, which was moved from Hawaii to Asheville, N.C. this year because of COVID-19.
That comes in due time, of course. For now, let's take another look back at Wednesday's opener. It sure is good to have basketball back.
Here are three things I liked about the Hoosiers' win over Tennessee Tech:
1. Trayce picks up where he left off
There's no question that sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis is Indiana's best player, and after missing a couple of bunnies early, he settled in and had a huge night. He scored 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in just under 30 minutes, and looked good doing it.
Most of his damage came around the rim, but he did hit a mid-range jumper, scored with his right hand – his off hand — and looked really quick in driving to the basket. He wanted to added pieces to his game, and we saw some of that on opening night. It was his 12th career double-double.
“Trayce is such an important part of what we are doing,'' Indiana coach Archie Miller said. "I think you could tell at the start of this game, he was a little nervous or a little rusty. He missed some easy baskets, but once we settled down, I thought our guys did a good job of popping it in to him a couple times to get him started. Once he got started, I think he was himself.
"You can tell he is better with his right hand around the rim and he can move on the perimeter, he is quick. He is a lot better as a player. There is no question, when your best player is out there getting offensive rebounds and blocking shots or defending the ball screen the way he was at times, he definitely gives you an anchor out there.''
2. Impressive debut for Trey Galloway
Trey Galloway was the first player to commit to Indiana in the Class of 2020, and when he did, he immediately became a recruiter for the Hoosiers, too, eventually helping to land AAU teammates Anthony Leal and Khristian Lander. Galloway was the first freshman off the bench Wednesday night, and all four — including Jordan Geronimo — got plenty of minutes and played well.
Galloway was sensational on the offensive end. He scored 13 points and looked very poised and comfortable in his first college game. He ran the floor well and finished strong at the basket. He's also quicker than most people realize.
“He got out in transition three or four times and made good plays. He can really finish,'' Miller said of Galloway. "He is good in the open floor. I think you got a chance to see what we see in the open floor and how he attacks.
"We want Trey to rebound a little better, but he is definitely one of the best players we have, without question, in transition. I think, in general, you will be able to see more of that as we keep going here.”
3. Protecting the ball, limiting turnovers
One thing that Miller is looking forward to in playing with three guards most of the time is to take better care of the ball. He really wants to keep turnovers to a minimum, and the Hoosiers did a good job with that on Wednesday night, turning it over just eight times.
Junior point guard Rob Phinisee had the ball in his hands more than anyone, and he played 25 minutes with zero turnovers. And Lander, Galloway and Leal — kids playing in their first college game — played a combined 44 minutes, and they didn't have any turnovers, either.
That's impressive, especially for a first night. Sure, it's just Tennessee Tech, and challenges will get much tougher going forward, but it was nice to see a clean game right out of he chute.
"This team right now as you watch us, we are built differently. We are a little bit more skilled and perimeter oriented,'' Miller said. "We have to take care the ball, and if we can do that, we'll be OK.''