Hoosiers riding ups and downs into Nebraska

With the ups and downs of an unpredictable Big Ten season, it’s hazardous for any team to dwell on a single snapshot.

For the Hoosiers, they are coming off of a loss at Rutgers, a game where shots didn’t fall. It was one in a line of struggling performances for freshman sensation Trayce Jackson-Davis, who finished 2-of-6 from the field.

But Indiana’s next opponent offers a reminder of what preceded this moment. The last time the Hoosiers met Nebraska, Jackson-Davis was dominant in a double-overtime win, racking up 25 points and 16 rebounds. IU barely squeaked by, but the result was one of three Big Ten wins to date, including last Saturday’s triumph over Ohio State.

It’s going to sound like a broken record with how frenetic this conference season has been, but IU coach Archie Miller needs the Hoosiers not to dwell on the negatives of Rutgers as they head to the road to meet the Cornhuskers again. Jackson-Davis, for one, has to remember all that’s made him a priority on opposing teams’ scouting reports.

As a unit, IU (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) has to see Nebraska as the venue for a rebound.

“When you’re in those games, man, that’s where you earn your stripes,” Miller said. “You as a coach are looking forward to watching your players sort of realize, you know, that when they do cross the finish line, and you win the game, ‘Man, I worked really hard for this.’

“See, you put in the work. It happened. We’ve just got to stay with it.”

A second straight road contest will test the Hoosiers’ resilience. Can the 6-foot-9 freshman rediscover the drive that has made him IU’s leading scorer, free-throw-maker, rebounder, and shot-blocker? Can IU’s backcourt find him and each other, taking better care of the ball? As a team, can the Hoosiers hit open shots?

Away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, IU is shooting 37.4 percent from the floor, and the final success rate in New Jersey was 31.7. Dwelling on the misses, however, won’t do the Hoosiers any good as they try to find a rhythm.

On Friday, Miller called some of the Hoosiers’ looks versus Rutgers “horse shots,” because they were so wide open.

“I think as we keep shooting them every day, and as we keep playing more games, I think, eventually, they going to have to start falling,” said redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter, who is 4-of-28 from 3. “We keep shooting them every day and Archie really emphasizes in practice that you need to start making shots if you want to win big games.”

While the offense has lagged at times, the Hoosiers’ defense has made improvements from earlier in the Big Ten season. Hunter, in particular, is someone Miller has singled out for embracing that end of the floor.

The last time the Hoosiers faced the Cornhuskers, both teams were able to surpass 90 points. In their last two games, the Hoosiers have held opponents short of 60.

If IU’s shot doesn’t travel to Lincoln, the defense has to.

“Defensively, I think we have to be more locked in this game,” senior Devonte Green said. “We’ve got to stay on the boards and put the ball in the hoop. Name of the game.”

Green, like Jackson-Davis, didn’t have his best performance in New Jersey. The 6-foot-3 guard was 0-of-4 from the floor, unable to produce the magic that fueled a 19-point outing on the Buckeyes just a few days earlier.

But he will, again, be a critical piece as the Hoosiers’ backcourt matches up with Nebraska’s four starting guards — a group that produced 78 of the Cornhuskers’ 90 points in Bloomington.

“They are hard to guard,” Miller said. “(Cam) Mack is one of the probably more unsung point guards in college basketball in terms of what he does for his team. He is a blur off the bounce and he’s a fantastic passer.”

Winning at Nebraska (7-10, 2-4) would give the Hoosiers a split for their road trip, not a bad result in the middle of a treacherous month in the conference schedule.

On Thursday, Miller sat down with Jackson-Davis to remind him of his successes. The big man from Greenwood may be 3-of-9 in his last two games, but he’s still averaging a team-best 14 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, converting on 62.2 percent of his shots.

“If you watch our first time we played against Nebraska, his effort level, his activity level, what he was able to do in that game, it didn’t come from me,” Miller said. “It came from his ability to play hard and run and play to win and be aggressive and not worry about ‘I missed a shot’ or ‘Are they double-teaming me?’ It doesn’t matter.

“He adds a lot of value to our locker room … with who he is. But you never want to see a guy go through the dumps and let it carry over, and I don’t think he’ll do that.”