BLOOMINGTON — For a half, Indiana was making the same defensive mistakes it had made in the first two games this season, failing to rotate to open shooters on the perimeter or keep North Alabama players out of the lane.
But in the second half, Indiana’s defense stiffened. The Hoosiers kept feeding the ball inside to freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who kept converting at the foul line.
It added up to IU pulling away in the second half and beating North Alabama 91-65 before an announced crowd of 17,222 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“Defensively, we’re not there yet,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “Can we get there? Maybe. We have a willing group.”
Jackson-Davis finished with a team-high 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. His highlight was fetching a pass from Damezi Anderson headed for the rafters and turning it into an alley-oop dunk that put the Hoosiers up 56-45 early in the second half. But Jackson-Davis did most of his damage from the free-throw line, making 14 of 15 attempts.
Jackson-Davis credited working with IU assistant coach Tom Ostrom for improving his free-throw shooting form.
“Coach O really put an emphasis on not starting the ball so far down low but really putting it up,” Jackson-Davis said. “So it’s less room for error. It’s working pretty well for me so far. It’s really just concentration for me, and I did really well tonight.”
Sophomore point guard Rob Phinisee added 13 points and six assists off the bench, while redshirt freshman forward Jerome Hunter scored 12 points. As a team, Indiana shot an even 50 percent from the floor and cashed in at the foul line, making 37 of 45 attempts (82.2 percent).
“Overwhelmingly, the free-throw line continues to be an advantage for us,” Miller said. “We’re finding ways to get there.”
Indiana (3-0) led just 47-40 at halftime as North Alabama was able to exploit some of IU’s deficiencies on the defensive end. Sophomore guard Jamari Blackmon made all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half for UNA and scored 15 of his 19 points before intermission. North Alabama shot 7-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half.
Miller felt IU’s defensive rotations to shooters were slow in the first half and better in the second half.
“We were better at taking away the initial look,” Miller said. “I don’t think they got great looks early. In the first half, they got pretty clean looks early, and I think we did a better job there. We made them put the ball on the floor a little bit more, which was good.
“All and all, there’s just that feeling as a coaching staff, we’re sitting there and we’re waiting for that moment or that series of possessions where it’s like five or six in a row where it’s like, ‘wow, guys were really on it.’ We haven’t had that yet. We’re going to have to get it. That’s a concern.”
Indiana also did a good job most of the night with taking advantage of North Alabama mistakes in transition, scoring 23 points off 22 UNA turnovers.
“Coach Miller, he always makes a big emphasis on defense,” Hunter said. “So we came out in the second half, we just tried to focus more on our defense and making sure they didn’t get open shots like they did in the first half.”