Indiana knew what it was up against when Wright State entered Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for Thursday night’s matchup.
The Raiders sat at 0-2 and were without their leading scorer, Trey Calvin, due to a shoulder injury. The 2-0 Hoosiers were double-digit favorites.
With 11:30 to play in the second half, Indiana appeared poised to run away, extending its lead to 71-60 after holding a 54-49 advantage at the break. But three minutes later, the Hoosiers held an edge of just 73-69, once again trending towards a closer-than-expected finish after consecutive single-digit wins.
Indiana, however, was able to walk off the court victorious, topping Wright State 89-80 – largely thanks to an improved Hoosiers offense that notched a new regular season high in points but still has a long way to go.
Sparked by a strong, balanced start in which they led 18-6 at the under 16 timeout, the Hoosiers’ 54-point first half was their highest scoring half this season and set the tone for a productive overall performance.
After Sunday’s 72-64 win over Army West-Point, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson stressed the need to get out in transition. The Hoosiers checked that box against the Raiders, scoring 18 fast break points compared to just 4 last game.
Inside the arc, Indiana made 30-of-45 shots and scored 56 points in the paint. The sophomore big man duo of Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau dominated, connecting on 17-of-24 attempts for 38 points.
After the game, Woodson was pleased with the strides Indiana’s made offensively and attributed some of the early success to strong play on defense.
“We had been working on that in practice and trying to push the pace, get more ball movement, body movement, and I thought we established that early,” Woodson said. “It's kind of nice to see because that first unit had been struggling in the first two games coming out of the box.”
Woodson has been stricter at practice, Reneau said, marking a necessary change after sixth-year senior point guard Xavier Johnson stated the Hoosiers’ practices and preparation lacked effort heading into the Army game.
Indiana bared the fruits of its labor early in the game more so than later, but the high-scoring output illustrated a step forward playing in transition.
“It's a big priority that we set in practice, just trying to get flow and different movement and create different matchups and switches and angles that we can exploit when we come down the court,” Reneau said.
Indiana’s offense needed quicker pace and more bench production. It received both against the Raiders en route to its most regular season points since Jan. 5 against Iowa.
Still, flaws remain – shooting behind the arc and at the free throw line being the two most pressing.
Indiana made just 3-of-16 attempts from 3-point range after hitting only four such shots against Army. Similar troubles persisted at the free throw line, where the Hoosiers went 20-of-32, or 62.5%.
Senior guard Trey Galloway went 8-of-10, freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako hit all six of his attempts and Ware knocked down 4-of-5. All other Hoosiers went 2-of-11.
This was a clear step back for Indiana after going 18-of-22 at the foul stripe against Army. Similar questions around free throw performance have arisen in past seasons, and the inconsistency at this stage is worrisome – but it also leaves room for considerable growth after an explosive scoring performance.
“We haven't put a perfect game together,” Woodson said. “The game before, we made our free throws. We didn't make them tonight. The three ball has been a major concern. We haven't shot the three ball very well. If you put all those together, boy, life might be pretty good.”
The Hoosiers earned 14 bench points against the Raiders, their most in the regular season. Mgbako bounced back from a 2-point effort against Army with 13 points Thursday night. The sophomore tandem of guard C.J. Gunn and forward Kaleb Banks entered the game with just 3 combined points on the season but had eight vs. Wright State.
Thursday night highlighted just how much upside the Hoosiers’ offense has, but also revealed frustrating woes that may ultimately derail a promising unit.
“We've just got to keep working, take it a practice at a time, a game at a time and see where it leads us,” Woodson said.