Following its 69-63 season-opening win over Florida Gulf Coast University on Nov. 7, Indiana men’s basketball anticipated an easy bounce-back win over Army West Point on Sunday. Despite entering the contest as 26-point favorites, the Hoosiers got an unlikely test before escaping with a 72-64 victory.
Indiana now holds a 2-0 record, but it isn’t without cause for concern. The Hoosiers exemplified sloppy play throughout the game’s entirety, specifically in the first half, which can signal problems in the long term.
Twelve minutes into the first frame, Indiana had just five field goals while committing eight turnovers, including a bad pass leading to an Army fast break layup to take a 21-14 lead with just under eight minutes left in the half. Whether it was poor decision making or just being overpowered by Army defenders swiping at the ball, the Hoosiers lost the ball left and right.
“I think that goes back to the preparation,” Indiana senior guard Xavier Johnson said postgame. “I think we need to be stronger with the ball. Turnovers are an issue right now.”
Turnovers weren’t the only poor facet of Indiana’s early offense. The Hoosiers struggled to find any offensive flow with poor ball movement and restrained themselves by getting stuck in a halfcourt which limited scoring opportunities. Indiana had multiple scoring droughts including a lengthy five minute and 22 second stretch without a score in the middle of the first half.
Indiana head coach Mike Woodson criticized the Hoosiers for their selfish offensive play.
“We have to move it, we have to trust each other,” Woodson said postgame. “We catch the ball, and the first thing we think about is putting the ball on the floor, making a play for myself. This is a team game, a team sport, so we have to trust each other.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Indiana experienced several recurring problems from its season opener. At the forefront of them was its poor defensive rotations, which allowed a 3-point happy Army to get several open looks.
The Black Knights may not have cashed in at an efficient rate, but due to the volume of deep balls they launched, they converted six in the first half alone — half of their field goals in the frame.
“I thought there were times where we just didn’t switch correctly, didn’t switch up, and they were shooting 3-point shots right in our face, and they made them,” Woodson said.
It wasn’t just the rotational issues which allowed Army easy scoring opportunities. The Hoosiers surrendered seven offensive rebounds allowed in the first half that the Black Knights converted into 7 second-chance points.
Despite its early struggles, Indiana still managed to fight through its self-inflicted adversities and head into halftime with a 1-point lead. The worst had seemed to be behind the Hoosiers and a promising second half seemed imminent following a strong close to the first frame.
Whatever halftime adjustments Woodson and Indiana planned, the execution was not carried out. The Black Knights lingered throughout the closing half and challenged the Hoosiers up to the final buzzer.
Indiana’s glaring issues remained prevalent. Army continued its 3-point attack and constantly closed any gap the Hoosiers created.
Sophomore center Kel’el Ware helped heat up the Hoosier offense in the half, including a personal 9-3 scoring run midway through the half, and at one point Indiana built an 8-point lead with under 11 minutes remaining — its largest of the game at that point. But as they had all night, the Black Knights scrapped back.
It was Army’s defense that brought it back into the game — or more so Indiana’s lack of offense. The Hoosiers reverted from their second half spurt with a three minute and 56 second scoring drought during which they coughed up five turnovers.
Down the stretch, Indiana drew several fouls and converted at the free throw line to seal the game — one improvement from its season opening struggles. The Hoosiers shot 81.8% from the charity stripe after shooting 63.3% against Florida Gulf Coast.
In total, Indiana allowed 13 Army 3-pointers on 38 attempts — matching Army’s made threes during its first two games of the season. Additionally, the Hoosiers surrendered 11 offensive rebounds for 14 second-chance points.
“Defensively, we allowed 64 points and that’s kind of in the neighborhood of where we want to be per game,” Woodson said. “But we’ve got to get better.”
With one more mid-major contest on the horizon against Wright State University on Thursday before a looming matchup with No. 6 and defending national champions University of Connecticut, Indiana has its work cut out for itself. Considering the Hoosiers’ struggles against their current caliber of opponents, there are a lot of issues left to shore up before taking on the mighty Huskies.
Indiana and Wright State will tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The game will be available on Big Ten Network.