After years of IU's epically bad 3-point shooting, Parker Stewart has changed the equation

INDIANAPOLIS – Mike Brey inhaled sharply and nodded, acknowledging what he called “the dilemma” that comes with defending Indiana basketball at the end of the calendar year 2021.

“How do we help our big guys in the post,” he asked, almost rhetorically, “and how do you not give up so many 3s?”

It is a new question for coaches planning against IU. Among the most reliable things you could say, good or bad, about Indiana for most of the past five years was the Hoosiers could be left to their own devices behind the 3-point line. They wouldn’t hurt you most of the time.

So far, one thing is clear: IU can count on its defense. The rest is a work in progress.

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Lost in the discussion — around a team stocked with new additions — of Tamar Bates’ long-term potential or Xavier Johnson’s mercurial nature is the old scouting report no longer applies thanks firstly to the most impactful fresh face thus far.

“Parker is one of the most gracious guys on our team,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said postgame Saturday, after IU’s 64-56 win against Notre Dame. “We all love him, and we know when he’s out on the floor we know exactly where he is at all times. We try to find him, and for some reason teams keep leaving him. We're gonna feed him shots, and he’s going to hit those shots.”

Parker Stewart feels at times like the forgotten man in conversations around how Mike Woodson rebuilt Indiana’s roster this offseason.

He arrived before Woodson, transferring in from UT Martin between semesters last winter. So, while he put his name in the transfer portal during the coaching change like several of his teammates, he does not perhaps feel so new as Johnson, Bates or Miller Kopp, another of the Hoosiers’ most-visible additions.

None have changed the calculus so directly or so quickly, though it’s not really calculus when it’s done with the cold efficiency Stewart has shown so far this season. Jackson-Davis laid the equation out Saturday: See Parker, find Parker, let Parker let fly.

Through the Hoosiers’ first 11 games, he’s hitting a Big Ten-leading 49.1% of his 3-pointers. That’s on 55 attempts, one of the highest numbers in the conference.

Notre Dame got a healthy dose of that Saturday afternoon, as Stewart scored 12 points on just four field goal attempts, draining three 3s in an IU win in the last-ever game in the Crossroads Classic. IU finishes with the best record of any of the four schools in the event (8-3), having won its last five Crossroads games.

This one doesn’t happen without Stewart.

“Trusting the offense and staying patient has allowed my shots to come,” Stewart said in response to questions sent via text message through a media relations staffer. “Trayce is a very unselfish player, and I know when teams throw different defenses at him, that opens up things for me, as well as everybody else.”

That last bit isn’t throwaway. Stewart is leading a quiet 3-point shooting renaissance in Bloomington, as Indiana steams toward the new year with legitimate NCAA tournament ambitions once again.

The Hoosiers (9-2) are hardly perfect. They turn the ball over too much and are still prone to the same offensive lulls that so routinely undercut them in the last two years of Archie Miller’s tenure. Yet one of the ways IU finds its way out of those slumps now is being able to shake its offense awake with 3s.

A program that just endured what was, hands down, the worst 3-point shooting stretch in its history by orders of magnitude exits this weekend hitting 37.3% of its 3s this season, No. 43 nationally.

Woodson promised improvement behind the arc and he’s delivered it. Six Hoosiers shoot at least 33.3% from the behind the arc, a number better than any of Indiana’s team-wide performances in the past four years. Four different Indiana players are averaging at least two 3-point attempts per game and shooting 35.5% or better.

At the front of the line is Stewart. And while Woodson said Saturday he doesn’t want IU to become a team that “just live(s) on 3-point shots,” after four years of bone-dry shooting causing the collapse of one offensive performance after another, this Stewart-led revival is a welcome development for Indiana, its fans and, most importantly, its new coach.

“He’s been very important for us,” Woodson said of Stewart. “Again, early on when we first started this journey, I didn't know where the 3-point shooting was going to come, and Parker and Miller (Kopp) both have stepped up and made some 3s for us.”

Stewart’s winding path through college basketball has been well chronicled.

Indiana Hoosiers guard Parker Stewart (45) celebrates a made basket in the second half against the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Indiana Hoosiers guard Parker Stewart (45) celebrates a made basket in the second half against the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

He started his career as a dangerous 3-point shooter at Pitt before transferring to UT Martin to play for his father, Anthony.

When Anthony Stewart died unexpectedly in November 2020, it was Stewart who first found his father. And it’s for his father that the redshirt junior wears No. 45, the same number Anthony Stewart wore in college.

After moving to Bloomington, Stewart sat out the back half of last season. The coaching change rocked him like it did many of his teammates, but he ultimately stayed. Now, he is an important piece of Woodson’s first Indiana team.

“The time I had off last year, I was focusing on recovering from injuries and getting myself back together mentally,” Stewart said via text. “My dad always taught me to prepare the right way, so I think getting extra shots up every day and continuing to lock in on defense has helped this season, along with having great teammates that I know are with me through the ups and downs.”

Those teammates will be as effusive about Stewart, if not more so. He brings something they’ve searched desperately across the past four years to find. As much as any other Hoosier, he changes opposing game plans and leads to the “dilemma” Brey grappled with unsuccessfully Saturday.

The Hoosiers aren’t going to lose sight of that any time soon.

“You’ve seen it,” Jackson-Davis said. “We're going to keep feeding him.”

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana basketball: Parker Stewart's shooting a new dimension for IU