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Monday, March 4
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: Indiana basketball establishes identity, offers hope in dominant win vs. Maryland

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Indiana was in desperate need of a bucket. Assembly Hall was unsettled. The Hoosiers’ lead over Maryland, which was once 58-35, had been almost cut in half with five minutes left thanks to a 9-0 run. 

When freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako held the ball on the left wing, he knew where it had to go – into the paint. Mgbako hit 7-foot center Kel’el Ware near the left block, and the sophomore big man did what he’s done almost all season: deliver when needed most. 

Ware turned and knocked down a running jumper, stalling Maryland’s run and giving Indiana all it needed to finalize a convincing 65-53 victory over the Terps on Friday night. 

The Hoosiers dominated from start to finish, sprinting to an 8-2 lead and forcing Maryland to call a timeout before the under-16 timeout in the first half. Indiana led by double digits the entire second half and possessed a 22-point lead with eight minutes to play. 

But most importantly, Indiana played to its full potential for the first time this season and built on its strong second half performance from Nov. 26 against Harvard University. Over their past three halves, the Hoosiers have outscored their opponents by a combined 115-89. 

This 26-point margin has been sparked by better defensive play, especially against Maryland. Indiana held the Terrapins to 28 and 25 points in the first and second half, respectively, good for the third fewest and fewest totals it’s allowed this season. 

Indiana head coach Mike Woodson praised his wings for their defensive effort, limiting Maryland to just 2-of-16 from beyond the arc, and he was pleased with how the Hoosiers rebounded, as they grabbed 46 boards to the Terrapins’ 30. 

At various points this season, Woodson has voiced his displeasure with Indiana’s struggles rotating on the perimeter – but after Friday night, he held a much different tone. 

“I thought we were connected tonight,” Woodson said. “We didn't give up a lot of threes. I thought our switching was right on par. We had a few miscues, but we didn't let this team get into the teeth of our defense very much. I just thought defensively, we were solid tonight for 40 minutes.” 

Woodson added Indiana received a heavy dose of points inside from Ware and sophomore forward Malik Reneau in the first half, as 24 of its 40 points came in the paint with the “buddy ball” duo boasting 19 total points at the break. 

Ware and Reneau have been Indiana’s most impactful players this year, forming a reliable tandem inside that’s given the Hoosiers a clear early-season identity. 

Ware, a transfer from the University of Oregon, entered Friday averaging a team-high 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He led the Hoosiers in both categories against Maryland with 18 and 14, notching his third double-double this season. 

Reneau ranks second on Indiana in both above categories, averaging 14.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest. The 6-foot-8 forward came into Friday leading the team in assists with 3.2 per game and dished out two more against the Terps, adding 11 points and five rebounds. 

As the front court continues to play at a high level, opportunities will keep rolling in for Indiana’s guards to make plays. Senior Trey Galloway capitalized against Maryland, stuffing the stat sheet with 12 points, six rebounds and six assists. 

Guard play has been heavily criticized early this year, and for good reason – the Hoosiers received 11 total points from a combination of five guards against Harvard. Galloway’s steady outing masked some flaws Friday night, as sophomore C.J. Gunn’s one made free throw was the lone additional point Indiana received from a guard apart from Galloway. 

The Hoosiers were once again unspectacular shooting 3-pointers, as they hit 3-of-9 attempts and still haven’t made more than four in a game this season. As usual, the front court starred – and it may just be a matter of time until the guards do the same. 

“With two post presences out there like Kel'el and Malik, teams are going to start doubling,” Galloway said. “We've got to be ready to knock it down and it comes out of the post and just shoot it with confidence. It's going to keep happening and they are going to keep coming.” 

Woodson was displeased with the Hoosiers’ finish offensively, as they scored only 4 points over the final eight minutes. A lack of ball and player movement was the leading factor, which Woodson took blame for after the game. 

But still, there were few complaints. The Hoosiers were in control throughout, delivering their best overall performance while reinforcing their offensive identity and showing considerable strides defensively. 

Indiana was without senior guard Xavier Johnson due to an ankle injury, prompting freshman guard Gabe Cupps into the starting lineup for the first time. Cupps completed his fifth consecutive game without making a field goal, but the Hoosiers’ overall guard play was positive, Ware said. 

Whether it be the promising offense or ascending defense, Indiana was impressive Friday night – and still has plenty of room to grow, starting in the backcourt. 

“I would say they were more active tonight,” Ware said of Indiana’s guards. “Even when they were sending guys, trapping me, they were cutting, just attacking the basket, leaving other teammates open. We just keep doing that, we're going to be good.” 

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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