Following Indiana men’s basketball’s sluggish start to its Oct. 29 exhibition opener against the University of Indianapolis, the Hoosiers made sure to put on a show in their exhibition Friday. Indiana defeated Marian University 94-61 in its final game before the regular season.
The Hoosiers made several highlight reel plays, but not all of them were merely crowd boosters. Here are three plays which provide an optimistic outlook for the future.
Gabe Cupps steal leads to CJ Gunn transition layup
The Hoosiers had an exciting minute-long stretch from 15 to 14 minutes remaining in the first half. Following a pair of Indiana free throws, freshman guard Gabe Cupps checked in for the first time and immediately made his presence known.
Cupps provided full-court pressure on Marian junior guard Gus Etchison, and it paid off when the freshman pawed the ball away at halfcourt. Cupps scooped up the ball and took it to the 3-point line before rifling a pass to sprinting sophomore guard CJ Gunn, who converted an easy layup.
Cupps showed bright potential with his perimeter defense in Indiana’s exhibition games. If it can translate against Division I opponents, Cupps may be a much more impactful addition than expected.
Indiana forces two shot clock violations in first three minutes of second half
Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson has always prided himself on Indiana’s emphasis on defense. Indiana captured the epitome of Woodson’s desire to start the second half.
On the first possession of the second frame, the Hoosiers hounded the perimeter and never relented on the 30-second possession. Indiana was able to constantly switch and rotate without leaving a man open, capitalized by freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako nearly stripping a Knight guard before forcing a poor shot. The attempt hit the side of the backboard and resulted in a shot clock violation.
The Hoosiers forced a second violation just a few minutes later. It was once again perimeter defense which controlled the possession, and once again Mgbako who ultimately finalized with another strong shot contest that prevented the Knights’ shot from reaching the rim. The Hoosiers didn’t allow a single paint touch on the possession.
Spearheaded by senior guard Xavier Johnson, Indiana was able to apply relentless pressure on the outside, disrupting Marian’s guards and the team’s entire offensive sets. The Hoosiers forced 15 turnovers in the game. If Indiana can maintain that kind of defensive energy consistently throughout the season, it will be a contender for the Big Ten’s best defense again. Last year the Hoosiers ranked second in the conference in opponent field goal percentage.
Indiana’s big men stretching the floor
The Hoosiers’ offense was bound to have a different play style with their flurry of newcomers following several departures in the offseason, and positive floor spacing was one of the most intriguing areas. The addition of sophomore center Kel’el Ware and the increased role of sophomore forward Malik Reneau provided the opportunity to have five 3-point shooters on the floor, and Indiana showcased it Friday night.
Reneau flashed his range early. Around the 15-minute mark of the first half, Johnson passed up an open deep ball before setting up the offense, taking a screen from Ware and finding Reneau on the left wing. Reneau stepped into the pass and launched — all net.
Eight minutes later, a transition possession started on the right side of the floor before Johnson settled down and swung it across the perimeter. The ball ultimately landed in Reneau’s hands, and the sophomore looked off a cutting senior forward Anthony Walker before shooting and making another three. Reneau’s two 3-pointers matched his 2022-23 season total.
Ware later popped a three of his own, highlighting a sound night behind the arc for the Hoosiers. Just the threat of more perimeter shooting drastically expands Indiana’s offensive outlook and will create more opportunities in open space.
Indiana looked much improved compared to its first exhibition, a good sign for the regular-season opener. The Hoosiers will face Florida Gulf Coast University at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.