NEW YORK — Marred by rebounding struggles and foul trouble, Indiana men’s basketball fell 77-57 to No. 5 University of Connecticut on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Scoring was scarce in the opening minutes of Sunday’s contest. Indiana and UConn each missed their first three shots from the field, and the Hoosiers didn’t score until nearly three minutes into the game — a 3-pointer from sophomore center Kel’el Ware.
Yet while points were hard to come by early, physicality was aplenty. Senior guard Xavier Johnson, who was listed as questionable prior to the game with an ankle injury, got called for a pair of early foul calls and was taken out just a little over two minutes in.
Amid the colliding bodies and haphazard play on both sides of the floor, Indiana benefitted from the Huskies’ miscues. The Hoosiers trailed just 6-4 at the under-16-minute media timeout, and a flush from sophomore forward Malik Reneau knotted the score shortly thereafter.
While Indiana weathered the storm in the absence of Johnson, the second unit, which has continually struggled to produce offensively this season, allowed UConn to dominate the offensive glass and extend its lead.
Husky senior guard Tristen Newton started to take over, and he converted a tough step back jumper over freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako with roughly four minutes left in the half to put UConn ahead 28-19.
Just a few minutes later, UConn senior guard Cam Spencer drained a wide open 3-pointer that seemed to deflate the Hoosier faithful and simultaneously ignite the Husky contingent at Madison Square Garden. Despite falling into a 14-point hole with a little over two minutes to go, Indiana stormed back.
A smooth pullup midrange jump shot from sophomore guard CJ Gunn spearheaded the run. Despite trailing by 10 with about 20 seconds left, Reneau capped off a game-leading 15-point first half with an and-one layup sequence.
The Hoosiers exited to the locker rooms down 37-30. The Huskies came out hot in the second half, exploding for a quick 7-0 run. But as it had the entire first period, Indiana didn’t let it persist.
Junior guard Trey Galloway dropped in a layup to cut the lead to 12 a little over two minutes into the half, and Reneau followed it up with another and-one play. Shortly after, Johnson swiped a pass from Spencer and was fouled on the fast break.
He converted his pair of shots from the free throw line, drawing the Hoosiers within 7 points with a little over 16 minutes left in the game. And still, UConn wouldn’t allow Indiana to chip in any further.
After a Johnson midrange jumper pulled Indiana within 7 yet again with just over 13 minutes to play, Newton rattled off a pair of buckets to put UConn ahead 54-43 with 12:08 remaining. About two minutes later, Johnson picked up his fourth foul, forcing head coach Mike Woodson to turn to freshman guard Gabe Cupps alongside Galloway in the backcourt.
Trailing by 10 with a little over seven minutes to go, Indiana lost its top scorer after Reneau fouled out of the game. He notched 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, including a perfect 4-of-4 from the stripe.
A few minutes later though, UConn broke off a run that seemed imminent throughout the entire game. Karaban dropped in a layup with a little under five minutes remaining to extend the Huskies’ lead to 20, all but sealing the Hoosiers’ fate.
Indiana ultimately fell 77-57, dropping its first game of the season after a 3-0 start. Newton led the Huskies, and the game, with 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting.
The Hoosiers will return to Madison Square Garden at 4:30 p.m. Monday to face off against the loser of the University of Louisville and the University of Texas.