Hickey: In battle of nation's best players, Jalen Hood-Schifino steals the show
If Indiana was to win its first game at Mackey Arena since 2013, it would be because Trayce Jackson-Davis stole the show from Zach Edey and proved himself the true Big Ten and national player of the year.
Or so I assumed. So we all assumed. Including Indiana’s own social media team, which made an aggressive push for Jackson-Davis as player of the year on the eve of the game.
🗣️ THE BEST PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY. pic.twitter.com/cEfbOh2BKY
— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) February 25, 2023
The Hoosiers did win at Mackey for the first time in a decade on Saturday night. The 79-71 victory was also Indiana’s first over a ranked Purdue team in West Lafayette since 1999 — Bob Knight’s final game on the visiting sidelines.
But it was not the result of Jackson-Davis outplaying Edey.
In fact, Edey sewed up conference player of the year and likely national player of the year with another outstanding performance. The 7-foot-4 Canadian double-double machine was at it again with 26 points and 16 rebounds.
In the process, he was able to render his archrival from Bloomington largely ineffective. Jackson-Davis was scoreless in the first half.
He eventually grinded out a near triple-double with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, but it was 1 of the few times this Big Ten season that things didn’t look effortless for him.
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers couldn’t have drawn up a more ideal blueprint for continuing their decade of home dominance over Indiana.
But they didn’t plan for Jalen Hood-Schifino. None of us did.
In a game between the 2 players who have been the nation’s best all season long, a freshman point guard was the top player on the floor.
It’s what made the difference Saturday. And more importantly for Indiana, it’s what promises to make the difference in March.
The Jalen Hood-Schifino Show
Something you can’t tell from reading this is how long the space currently occupied by this sentence was a blinking cursor. That’s how difficult it is to come up with the proper words to describe Jalen Hood-Schifino’s performance on Saturday.
The freshman kept the Hoosiers afloat in the first half, scoring 23 of his game-high 35 points while Jackson-Davis was shut out. There were multiple moments where it felt like Purdue would build a run to put the Hoosiers out of their misery, as so often happens in this place.
But Hood-Schifino always had an answer that kept things close. And after halftime, it was Indiana pulling away when the rest of the gang finally joined in.
Trey Galloway joined Jackson-Davis in double figures with 10 points in the second half. After Purdue scored the first bucket of the second half, Indiana responded with a stunning 28-12 spurt that took the air out of the Big Ten’s loudest building.
Hood-Schifino’s performance — 35 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists — is arguably the greatest performance by an Indiana freshman point guard in 43 years. You know his name. And the circumstances are eerily similar.
The opponent was Purdue. In the only NCAA Tournament meeting between the rivals, Isiah Thomas dropped 30 points on the Boilermakers. But it wasn’t enough. Purdue pulled off the 76-69 Sweet 16 upset, ending Mike Woodson’s playing career in the process.
Improbably, Woodson was on the sidelines for the performance that finally exceeded Zeke’s. Thanks to Hood-Schifino, Woodson snapped an 0-5 record at Mackey that dated to his playing career.
Damon Bailey also had an epic performance in his freshman season, scoring 20 points against Kansas in the Elite Eight. But that too came in a losing cause.
Hood-Schifino’s star turn is a truly unique moment in Indiana basketball history.
That may be doubly true when considering the circumstances that created this scenario in the first place.
Hood-Schifino was not Indiana’s starting point guard at the start of the season. Theoretically speaking, that may even still be the case. The Pittsburgh native was only thrust into the starting lineup when Xavier Johnson went down with a leg injury at Kansas.
Hood-Schifino dropped 33 points on Northwestern in an 84-83 loss on Jan. 8, but there were plenty of growing pains in his first month as a starter.
He was 5-of-15 from the field against Penn State. Against Michigan State, 1-of-6. A 2-for-11 showing at measly Minnesota. Maryland’s Jahmir Young harassed Hood-Schifino into 1-for-14 from the field in College Park.
But on Saturday night, Indiana reaped the benefits of those learning lumps. Hood-Schifino is a quick study.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is the Hoosiers may need to do a lot more reaping in the next month, because there may not be much more time to enjoy with Jalen Hood-Schifino.
If he wasn’t already on the radar of every NBA scout, it’s a fat chance that’s still the case. He’s likely already played his way into the first round of the 2023 draft. And he may be in the top 10 before this ride is over.
For now, though, that can remain a future concern. There are a lot worse places to be than heading to the NCAA Tournament with the runner-up for national player of the year and a potential lottery pick at point guard.
That’s where the Hoosiers are going. And it may be a few games before they’re ready to stop.