With 50 seconds on the clock and leading by 9 points, Indiana men’s basketball’s frontcourt found itself in a two-on-one fastbreak. Sophomore forward Malik Reneau handled the ball down the court and, with a defender homing in, lobbed the ball above the rim. Sophomore center Kel’el Ware soared up to slam it home with two hands, putting an exclamation point on Indiana’s 89-80 win over Wright State University on Thursday night.
The play encapsulated what is beginning to emerge as Indiana’s offensive identity — what the Hoosiers have deemed “buddy ball.” Indiana dominated with a 56-24 point advantage in the paint, and Ware and Reneau found their strides early by playing off each other.
“They’re playing well together,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “We call it buddy ball. They’re really connecting in terms of making plays for one another, high-low plays.”
The duo connected on several instances. Reneau finished with five assists, three of them to Ware, and both of Ware’s assists came on buckets from Reneau down low.
“It’s just realizing what the defense is giving us,” Reneau said postgame. “The term buddy ball is definitely what me and Kel’el have been looking at, especially on the perimeter I’m looking to get top down, not post. I’m looking for him, get some early seals, early post-ups.”
It isn’t just Ware and Reneau relying on each other to score down low, but the whole team. Through three contests, the pair are the team’s top scorers, and are doing so in an efficient manner.
Ware finished Thursday’s contest as Indiana’s leading scorer with 22 points on a reliable 9-of-11 shooting — his second straight contest of 81.1% from the field. Reneau followed up with 16 points, the team’s second-most, on 8-of-13 shooting.
Ware specifically has asserted himself as the Hoosiers’ biggest weapon in multiple facets. Offensively, he has proved his scoring abilities at all three levels by scoring at ease down low while knocking down some midrange and 3-point jumpers to start his season. Defensively, he serves as Indiana’s anchor and rim protector with two blocks per game.
“I would say I’m more in a groove now with Coach Woodson giving me that role where he trusts me enough to just go make the play and attack the basket, score, even throw it out to my teammates and just play smart on the court,” Ware said.
The buddy ball system isn’t new in Bloomington, and it was something Reneau witnessed last season. Now-graduated forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson were the previous occupants, but Reneau gained some reps with Jackson-Davis and is ready to take the torch.
“Just looking back at Race and Trayce, I’ve been seeing it the whole last year, the buddy ball system,” Reneau said. “Just keep working on that and keep trying to find my buddy.”
While it hasn’t translated yet, Indiana’s inside dominance can translate into outside shooting success. The Hoosiers shot 3-of-16 from 3-point land Thursday night, but the more Ware and Reneau punish defenders in the paint and draw attention, the more chances Indiana will create outside.
Ware and Reneau’s size have also been the primary cause for Indiana’s enormous free throw advantage. The Hoosiers have attempted 84 free throws to their opponents’ 32 through three games.
The cream and crimson have been able to take advantage down low against teams fielding smaller lineups, but that changes with their next contest. Indiana takes on No. 5 University of Connecticut and 7-foot-2 sophomore center Donovan Clingan — a monster shot blocker expected to be one of the sport’s top rim protectors this season.