No. 13 Indiana men’s basketball has no lack of talent in its starting lineup, but when struggling early against Morehead State University in its season opening 88-53 victory Monday, it turned to its bench.
The second unit responded thoroughly. Tied 21-21 with nine minutes remaining in the first half, junior forward Jordan Geronimo scored four straight points, injecting life into the Hoosiers and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
After the ensuing 13-0 Indiana run, including five consecutive points by freshman forward Malik Reneau, Indiana never looked back.
Led by Reneau’s 15 points and five rebounds, the bench scored 45, just over half Indiana’s total. Geronimo scored 10, and senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was the only starter to add double-digit scoring with 15 points and seven rebounds.
“We are deeper this season than we were last season,” head coach Mike Woodson said in his postgame press conference. “Again, everybody was new last year. I was new. Those guys last season were trying to figure me out, and the guys that came back know who I am now... We're longer. More athletic than we were last season. That helps in the college game, I think.”
Indiana showed off its ability to spread out the production on both ends of the floor, even against lower-level competition. Seven players scored at least seven points, and only freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino exceeded 23 minutes played. Of his 27 total minutes, 17 came in the first half.
Reneau’s length off the bench was at times too much to handle for Morehead State, who was already faced with Indiana spreading the court with Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson. Reneau showed off his length and athleticism throughout the night, handling the ball below the basket just as well as he did a coast-to-coast fast break.
“The freshmen, him and Jalen, they don't play like freshmen,” Woodson said. “They act like they belong.”
Morehead State senior guard Mark Freeman, who scored 14 points to lead the Eagles, didn’t return after rolling his ankle in the first half.
Freeman left when the game was tied at 21, and the departure of Morehead State’s top scorer left the team light on offense. After shooting 6-for-19 from 3-point range in the first half, Morehead State only shot 3-of-11 from beyond the arc in the second half.
The bench outscored Morehead State 31-24 in the second half alone, and three players off Indiana’s bench were plus 15 or better in the half.
“It's really important for us to have no drop off,” Geronimo said. “The starters who started the game, it's important for us to come with our energy, and when energy is applied it's always going to show on the court. We went on a run. Got some stops, some easy points. That's what you need when you come off the bench, to have that pop to keep you in.”
Senior guard Xavier Johnson, who had a diminished night in both production and minutes thanks to some early foul trouble, finished the night with 4 points in 20 minutes.
Woodson said he would prefer if Johnson led the second unit but had no problem with Hood-Schifino on the floor Monday.
“I kind of want X in with the second unit because he's been around a lot longer than Fino,” Woodson said. “He can run our ball club, so the fact that he got in foul trouble early, it gave Fino a chance to play more minutes with the second unit. He can play with any unit. Both of them can.”
Indiana is now 1-0 on the season and will look to extend its record against Bethune-Cookman University at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Assembly Hall. Thanks to its added depth, it might not be a struggle, even if the starters struggle.
“As a team I feel like we have 10 starters, 11 starters, 12 starters, so when that second group comes in, there should be no drop off,” Thompson said.
Support the Indiana Daily Student to beat Purdue’s student newspaper, the Exponent, through making a donation to the IDS Legacy Fund! Whichever publication raises more money before the Purdue v. IU football game Nov. 26 “wins” the challenge, but all donations go to support student journalism at the respective publications. To help IU beat Purdue and support the IDS, follow this link to donate.