“I’m not losing this game. I can’t lose this game.
Race Thompson turned to Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino and told them he wouldn’t let Michigan ruin his senior night. He was desperate.
Last season, the senior forward didn’t have the upper hand at Assembly Hall. Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. hit the game-winning 3-pointer just over Thompson’s arms. He decided to return to Indiana for one more year and in Sunday’s 75-73 regular season finale win over the Wolverines, he turned the tables.
“The way the game ended last year here on senior night was something I’ll never forget and part of the reason I came back, really. We talked about it and he didn’t. ‘there’s no way we’re losing this game,” Thompson said after the game. “We’re leaving everything we have on the field, and I think going away knowing that almost the next two games could be the last matches of our career, we’re just going to play desperately and I don’t think we’ll ever lay an egg like that again.
The attacker did not lay an egg. His team scratched and fought their way to victory after dropping 12 points with 12:26 left in regulation.
After Thompson suffered a knee injury in Iowa in early January, many suspected the worst. This Thompson could be out for the season or even months. Later that week, it was announced that the senior striker would be out indefinitely.
Two and a half weeks later, the 6-foot-8 forward was back on the ground with a right knee brace. It was clear that something was wrong, he was not moving well. The Minnesota native went 8 for 26 from the field in his first six games after injury. He wasn’t defending and was struggling to find a rhythm.
Thompson praised Indiana’s coaching staff and head athletic trainer Tim Garl in his postgame speech about their ability to get back into shape. Jackson-Davis also spoke about it when speaking to the media.
“He’s a huge part of what we do. He says he’s good and all that, but he really put up a fight,” Jackson-Davis explained. “He’s been with Timmy G. Doing stuff of that nature just to make his body feel good here, and he gives it his all every time he’s here.
“We needed every basket he got, every steal he got, to get this win.”
Slowly but surely, with more playing time, he was able to start having an impact. Against Michigan, Thompson undoubtedly had his best game since the injury. He notched his second double-double of the year scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The super senior was efficient as he was 7 for 10 from the field and had a season-high four interceptions. Two of the thefts occurred at the end of regulation time and overtime.
“I thought the two plays Race made on the stretch defensively, the two interceptions, were the two biggest plays of the game,” Mike Woodson said.
While his defense was key, his aggression sparked Indiana. There was a moment on Sunday when instead of making a move into the post, Thompson looked to send the ball to Jackson-Davis in the paint. He turned it over and Woodson went after him. Woodson told him to go score the ball. He did. Most emphatic was his slam and one that cut Michigan’s lead to one with 6:42 left in regulation.
Thompson’s time at IU was unique. He came a year in early summer 2017 and was Archie Miller’s first recruit. He also underwent a coaching change, entered his name in the transfer portal and went through two senior days. One thing you can’t deny is his combat and consistency.
When he’s been healthy in his IU career, Thompson has been the glue guy. Hoosiers guard Anthony Leal even photographed his face on a bottle of Elmer’s. Now he is healthier and at the right time. There’s a lot of ball left to play and Race Thompson will play a big role in IU’s success in March.
But so far he has avenged his senior loss last season. One speech was happier than the other.
Filed at: Michigan Wolverines, Race Thompson