Indiana men’s basketball capped off the Empire Classic third-place game with a 74-66 win over the University of Louisville. The Hoosiers leave New York with a 4-1 overall record.
Indiana’s starters struggled early as the teams traded blows. Freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako, who has struggled defensively to start the season, snatched the ball away from Louisville sophomore guard Tre White 89 seconds into the game but fouled on the two ensuing possessions. Mgbako didn’t return in the first half due to foul trouble.
Fouls continued to plague the Hoosiers when sophomore forward Malik Reneau picked up his second infraction with just under 12 minutes to go in the half. Like Mgbako, Reneau sat the remainder of the half.
Indiana’s bench unit — which has lacked production in the early season — became the story of the first frame. First it was sophomore forward Kaleb Banks helping the cause, sinking a pair of free throws before successfully converting a backdoor cut into a two-handed slam to knot things at 10-10 six-and-a-half minutes into the contest.
After Reneau’s second foul awarded the Cardinals two free throws to gain a 15-12 advantage, a trio of Indiana’s second unit rattled off 14 points for the Hoosiers while the Cardinals only gained 3 points in the span, giving Indiana an 8-point lead.
Senior forward Anthony Walker led the charge with a team-high 9 points in the half along with four rebounds. Junior forward Payton Sparks put up 3 points and two rebounds while sophomore guard CJ Gunn added 4 points himself.
Louisville cut the lead back down to 4 points, but senior guard Xavier Johnson scored 6 points in a row to give Indiana its first double-digit lead of the game, a 32-22 advantage with just under two minutes left in the frame. It was the first bucket for an Indiana starter since the 12 minute and 19 second mark.
As the clock wound down to end the half, Indiana had a fast-break opportunity to head into halftime with a 10-point lead. Instead, Gunn turned the ball over and Louisville sophomore guard Skyy Clark drained a 3-pointer as time expired to make it a 34-29 Hoosier advantage at the break.
Indiana sophomore center Kel’el Ware repeated the Hoosiers’ first-half trend by picking up two quick fouls to start the second half, his second and third of the game. Shortly after, Reneau picked up his third foul, forcing the Hoosiers to insert their second unit front court.
The Cardinals cut their deficit to 1-point with a quick scoring spurt to start the second frame, but Indiana responded with an 8-0 run to take a 44-35 lead once again courtesy of the bench. Walker tacked on two free throws, Sparks rocked home a pair of dunks and Mgbako put in an easy layup. Johnson assisted on all three field goals made.
Louisville again chipped away, finally regaining the lead with just under 12 minutes left. It was the Cardinals’ first lead since they led 15-12 at the 11:51 mark of the first half.
Louisville sustained its lead for seven minutes and 50 seconds despite multiple Indiana efforts to chip away. The Hoosiers cut the deficit to 1 point on three separate occasions but trailed at the under four minute timeout.
Finally, Johnson converted a wide-open fastbreak layup off a steal to give the Hoosiers a 65-64 lead with three minutes remaining. Indiana never looked back, ending the game on a 13-2 spurt to capture a 74-66 victory.
Four Hoosiers scored in double figures for a balanced attack. Johnson led the way with 14 points, Ware and Reneau added 12 each and Walker scored 11 points.
Indiana won despite making just one 3-pointer on 11 attempts. It made more free throws than field goals, going 25-of-34 from the line and 24-of-53 from the field.
The Hoosiers will get six days off before their next contest. Indiana takes on Harvard University at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 26 in Gainbridge Fieldhouse.