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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

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Malik Reneau, Kel’el Ware shine in debut as Indiana basketball’s frontcourt tandem

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Malik Reneau threw his hands up and shook his head in frustration when he saw the ball rattle through the hoop. 

The Indiana men’s basketball sophomore forward fell victim to a failed defensive rotation. This time, Florida Gulf Coast University junior guard Dallion Johnson sunk a triple from the corner to put the Eagles up 48-42 with just under 11 minutes to go in Tuesday night’s season opener. 

Roughly 20 seconds later, Reneau was fouled on his nifty converted layup and completed the and-one opportunity, drawing the Hoosiers within a possession and revitalizing the Assembly Hall crowd. In a stark contrast to the previous sequence, Reneau triumphantly pumped his fists. 

“Our biggest thing is we want him on the floor,” junior guard Trey Galloway said of Reneau after the game. “We need him.” 

The Hoosiers proceeded to erupt for a 14-0 run which ultimately propelled them to a 69-63 victory. Reneau finished second on the team with 15 points and notched some timely buckets. Still, he shot 3-for-6 from the line and exhibited some of the foul trouble issues that plagued him in his freshman campaign. 

“Malik has to be smarter,” head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “He’s just got to be smart, especially coming down the stretch and not getting silly fouls.” 

A highly touted recruit in the class of 2022, Reneau flashed sparingly as a consistent member of the Hoosiers’ rotation last season. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a freshman and was inserted into this year’s revamped starting lineup. 

Alongside Reneau in the frontcourt is sophomore center Kel’el Ware, a former 5-star talent who transferred from the University of Oregon this offseason. Ware posted 13 points as one of four Hoosiers to tally double-digit points Tuesday night. 

The 7-foot North Little Rock, Arkansas, native added 12 rebounds, four assists and a trio of ferocious blocks in his first regular season action in Bloomington. Like Reneau, Ware was especially impressive amid the Hoosiers’ 14-0 outburst. 

Shortly after Reneau’s and-one sequence, Ware swiped the ball from FGCU senior guard Chase Johnston and immediately pushed the ball up the floor. Ware dished a pass to senior guard Xavier Johnson who bolted to the other end of the court and converted a crafty layup. 

“He plugged the hole up for us,” Woodson said.  

In the absence of Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was drafted by the Golden State Warriors following a decorated four-year career, Indiana had to recoup much of its frontcourt production both offensively and defensively. 

Jackson-Davis was an adept shot-blocker and post scorer, and Ware has displayed shades of similar capabilities. Factoring in Ware’s passing ability — he notched three assists in consecutive offensive possessions — and his potential to space the floor, Ware offers a level of versatility that perhaps even Jackson-Davis couldn’t provide. 

Still, Ware struggled to consistently convert from the free-throw line. He shot 8-for-12 from the stripe, better than the team average of 63%, but still inadequate by Woodson’s standards. 

“When he’s around the bucket I expect him to finish and make his damn free throws,” Woodson said. “That’s what it’s all about.” 

Reneau and Ware impressed in their regular season audition as running mates, but their performances didn’t come without hitches. Free-throw shooting was a primary culprit, but Reneau surrendered a couple head-scratching turnovers, and Ware was occasionally beaten on the glass. 

Still, Reneau and Ware were the primary drivers of the Hoosiers’ 30 paint points, which outscored the Eagles’ tally by 12. And the pair’s energy and intensity, which helped spearhead the second half run, were evident. 

“I liked our fight when we got down six late in the second half, because you could easily break there and kind of fall apart,” Galloway said. “We made that run and got back into it with our intensity and defensive energy.” 

While Reneau mainly came alive in the second half, Ware was dominant from the outset. He finished the first half with 8 points and eight rebounds to go along with his three highlight-worthy shot-rejections. 

His 36 minutes on Tuesday night were the second highest on the team and the second-most he’s played in his collegiate career — he tallied 37 minutes with Oregon on Nov. 27 last year. In Reneau and Ware’s increased and almost unprecedented usage, the two shined as Indiana’s frontcourt tandem. 

With so many questions surrounding the Hoosiers heading into the season, the two sparked some optimism in the season opener. 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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