DAYTON, Ohio — Trayce Jackson-Davis was the first Indiana player to take the court Tuesday night and the last to leave. Thanks to his efforts, Indiana will play on in the NCAA tournament.
Jackson-Davis, brilliant last week at the Big Ten tournament, carried over his performance to his NCAA tournament debut, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds as Indiana outlasted Wyoming 66-58 in a First Four matchup of No. 12 seeds.
The Hoosiers, making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016, advance to face No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s on Thursday in Portland, Oregon. Jackson-Davis punctuated the win with two dunks in the closing minutes and exited to chants of “TJD!” from the Indiana-centric crowd of 12,522 at UD Arena, the first full-capacity event at the NCAA tournament since 2019.
“It was honestly surreal,” said Jackson-Davis, a junior forward. “We didn’t want to be in the play-in game, but sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way and then some things happen. But playing in front of our fans, almost like a home crowd one more time, I thought it was awesome.”
Jackson-Davis, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, shone in a similar setting last week in Indianapolis, scoring 76 points and collecting 25 rebounds in three games. Indiana’s strong showing at the Big Ten event seemed to comfortably secure a spot in the NCAA field, but the team instead was dispatched to the First Four.
“I’ve always dreamed about playing in this tournament,” Jackson-Davis said. “Finally just being able to live out that dream and performing at the highest level, I’m truly grateful.”
Indiana needed Jackson-Davis on a night when its other four starters combined for 18 points on 7-of-29 shooting. The team also received a huge boost from sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo, who scored a career-high 15 points and added seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
Geronimo had not played since Friday, when he suffered a knee injury against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal. Although coach Mike Woodson said Monday that Geronimo likely would play against Wyoming, he logged his most impactful performance of the season.
“I call it playoff basketball,” said Woodson, who won his NCAA tournament coaching debut. “In tournament play, you find a guy that steps up for you, and he was the guy tonight. I’m just happy for the young man because we needed the 15 points that he gave us, and his defensive presence of him on the floor.”
Geronimo credited Indiana’s athletic training staff for expediting his rehab and said he surprised himself with how good he felt Tuesday. He had several follow slams and hit a 3-pointer — one of just two for Indiana — to put the Hoosiers ahead 43-37 with 12:36 to play.
“Geronimo’s been key to our run, so I wasn’t surprised at all,” Jackson-Davis said. “He’s an energy guy, he’s going to go rebound, he’s going to go get things at the top of the backboard and dunk it hard. I’m happy for him because he’s performing a really, really high level for us, and without him , we probably would have lost that game.”
Although Geronimo came in averaging only 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, he had Wyoming’s attention.
“I was hoping he didn’t play today, but luckily for them he did,” Cowboys coach Jeff Linder said. “Talking to other coaches and having watched them on film, what we’ve watched, he just provides a level of toughness and grit.”
Woodson sensed IU might struggle offensively and implored his team during an early timeout to win “one of those ugly games.” The Hoosiers responded defensively against Wyoming star guard Hunter Maldonado, who led the Cowboys with 21 points but committed a season-high 10 turnovers while playing all 40 minutes.
“I’ve seen traps and doubles all year. It wasn’t anything too special, but I think I tried to force a little bit more than I probably should have,” Maldonado said. “Just in the sense of trying to force, almost making the home run play instead of taking singles.”
Indiana left immediately after the game for its cross-country flight through the night. Woodson and his staff completed a scouting report on Saint Mary’s before Tuesday’s game in case IU advanced.
Woodson said the Hoosiers will “try to find a gym where we can do some work” Wednesday before gearing up for Thursday night’s game.
“Hoosier Nation, I need you all,” Woodson joked after Tuesday’s win. “I need 8,000 people in Portland. Can we do that?”