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Monday, March 4
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Indiana men’s basketball unable to match Auburn’s pace in 104-76 loss


ATLANTA — Indiana men’s basketball didn’t have its running shoes ready. The Hoosiers looked outclassed and undermanned facing a high-octane Auburn offense Saturday in a 104-76 loss. The Tigers dictated the pace of play at will, surgically breaking down Indiana’s defense and constantly creating open looks to display an offensive explosion. 

The game started in track meet fashion, but it was the Hoosiers who looked most comfortable early. Indiana opened the game with four 3-pointers in less than four minutes and built a 22-10 lead while Auburn struggled to connect from the field, starting 4-of-12. 

However, Indiana’s shots stopped falling and Auburn chipped away. Defensively, the Tigers played physically and challenged Indiana’s bigs, contesting every shot at the rim and double-teaming sophomore center Kel’el Ware and sophomore forward Malik Reneau on paint touches. The Hoosiers took advantage early behind the arc, but Auburn’s rotations shored up, and Indiana’s offense became stagnant. 

“They just physically took us out of everything we wanted to do,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. 

The momentum flipped in favor of Auburn off a transition opportunity — an area the Tigers dominated. With 9:30 remaining in the first half, Indiana senior guard Trey Galloway missed a fast break layup, and junior forward Payton Sparks missed a wide-open putback chance. Instead, Auburn freshman guard Aden Holloway converted a layup off the miss, a crucial 4-point swing.  

Auburn’s guards started to get whatever they wanted. Senior K.D. Johnson came off the bench and looked like the Energizer bunny with tenacious defense, wreaking havoc on Indiana’s backcourt and creating fastbreak opportunities for himself or his teammates to capitalize off. The Atlanta native had 9 points in the half. 

Mainly due to Auburn’s full-court press, fatigue kicked in on Indiana’s guards, and it started to show. The Hoosier offense couldn’t create any opportunities as the first half wound down and turnovers became more frequent. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl noted the absence of Indiana’s leader and primary ballhandler. 

“The idea about pressure is it takes a cumulative effect,” Pearl said postgame. “They turned it over four, five times late in the first half that created that margin for us, and I think fatigue was a factor. If they had Xavier Johnson, a little bit more guard depth, they wouldn’t have been bothered as much by our pressure.” 

What was once an Indiana 12-point lead was trending towards an Auburn blowout win. Everything favored the Tigers heading into halftime, and a Holloway 3-point heave to beat the buzzer and gain a 52-34 advantage served as an early dagger. 

The disparity between the teams’ personnel showed, especially without Johnson on the floor for Indiana. Auburn forced eight Indiana turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and the Tigers’ physical advantages showed to impact the game. Pearl noticed the difference in play style and thought the game favored his team’s philosophy. 

“Very similar to our matchups against Nebraska and then Iowa last year, you could see a little bit of SEC speed and athleticism,” he said. “That was a factor.” 

Indiana pushed back early in the second half, but Auburn continued to light it up from beyond the arc and never wavered. Holloway and Johnson continued to do as they wanted, and graduate forward Jaylin Williams and sophomore guard Tre Donaldson joined in by scoring with ease. 

Whatever rhythm Indiana found it lost. Even when it conducted positive possessions, Auburn always had a response. Whether it was Williams slashing in the lane or any of the guards finding an open look, the Tigers ran the show. 

The 3-pointers started to pour for Auburn in what became a 6-for-8 second half campaign and a 14-for-29 total from deep. Indiana freshman guard Gabe Cupps traced the problems containing and contesting back to transition defense. 

“(They were) not really letting our defense get set,” Cupps said. “It’s tough to get out to the 3-point line when they’re pushing it up without getting matched up. They had us scrambling to find their 3-point shooters.” 

Auburn exposed the flaws of Indiana’s playstyle — something that plagues not only the Hoosiers but the Big Ten Conference. More centralized on slower, half-court offense and often reliant on post play, Indiana and the conference’s brand of basketball seem to be fit for competition pitted against each other. Saturday’s result was a product of Auburn’s pace of play easily prevailing, which allowed the Tigers to control the contest. 

The Tigers finished with 20 fastbreak points to the Hoosiers’ 10 as well as 15 points off 12 Indiana turnovers. Indiana’s guards were never able to challenge Auburn on the perimeter defensively as seen through both the efficient and volumetric 3-point numbers and just three Tiger turnovers. 

Indiana’s bounce-back effort is a highly anticipated matchup. The Hoosiers are slated to take on No. 2 Kansas University at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 16 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. 

“We got a week to prepare,” Woodson said. “I gotta get us in a better place where we can put a 40-minute ballgame together against a really elite team.” 

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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