Nothing has come easy for Indiana men’s basketball this season despite its now 6-1 record. Even against mid-major competition, the Hoosiers have had to scrap for all six of their wins, and slow starts have been one of several factors in their tight contests. Against Maryland on Friday night, however, Indiana burst out of the gates in both halves en route to a 65-53 win.
The Hoosiers led by 5 points or less in halftime of their first five wins this season, but Friday night the cream and crimson came out hot. Indiana established its size early in the paint by scoring its first 10 points in between the blocks and its 8-2 lead three-and-a-half minutes in triggered a Maryland timeout in front of a raucous Assembly Hall crowd.
The Hoosier frontcourt of freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako, sophomore forward Malik Reneau and sophomore center Kel’el Ware dominated inside. Then the big fellas showcased their shooting touch as Ware and Reneau knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the lead to 16-4 just over six minutes into the half.
Every shot seemed to fall for Indiana offensively. On the defensive side, it suffocated Maryland to a cold 2-for-8 start from the field. The Hoosiers played physically and confidently with the scoreboard to show for it.
“You want to get off to a good start to set the tone,” Indiana senior guard Trey Galloway said postgame. “It wasn’t just offensively; it was defensively, too. We were able to go out there with high intensity and we knew our coverages, and we executed well early and often.”
Indiana dominated defensively in the opening by crowding the paint and allowing a poor 3-point shooting Maryland to take its chances from deep — a gameplan which proved successful. Maryland’s first points from a frontcourt player came eight-and-a-half minutes into the game.
The Hoosiers rode their early wave of momentum throughout the first frame’s entirety. They led by more than 7 points after the opening run and entered halftime leading by 12, their biggest lead at the break all year.
In past games, Indiana’s close contests have been the product of failing to create a game-breaking run until late in games. The Hoosiers continued their Friday night trend of breaking season norms by bursting out of halftime with another early surge, creating an unsurmountable lead early in the frame.
Maryland scored first to cut the scoring gap to 10, but Indiana responded with a 12-1 run. Galloway ignited the scoring by surmounting his first-half total of 4 points with three consecutive layups and the Hoosiers gained their first 20-plus point lead of the season: a 52-31 lead just over five minutes into the second half.
Indiana countered Maryland’s attempt at a response and grew the advantage to a game-high 23 points with 10 minutes left.
The Hoosiers needed the large cushion. As the clock wound down, Indiana fell into a spell with poor ball control and limited scoring opportunities as the Terrapins cut the disparity to 12 points with five minutes remaining.
Indiana persisted with a few buckets and hung on to win by 12 to start conference play 1-0. For the first time all season, though, the Hoosiers weren’t the ones making a final push. Their early runs got the job done.
The game’s later portion exhibited ugly play. Indiana committed 13 of its 16 turnovers in the second half and its 25 points mark a season-low for points in a frame.
“I’ve got to do a better job helping this team offensively because I didn’t think we executed the last seven, eight minutes of this ballgame,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “That’s on me.”
Indiana’s late struggles can be attributed to things like senior guard Xavier Johnson’s absense due to injury or straight up sloppy play, but another reason could be its lack of familiarity playing with a comfortable lead. The Hoosiers had a blowout wrapped up, but instead of keeping their foot on the gas they got complacent.
“I just thought we got so stagnant those last seven, eight minutes where we didn’t move the ball,” Woodson said. “Bodies weren’t moving, and that’s something that can be corrected, and I’ve got to help them correct it.”
The Hoosiers’ four horsemen of Ware, Reneau, Mgbako and Galloway were the team’s double-digit scorers and contributed 54 of the team’s 65 points. Indiana’s strong starts laid the groundwork for a dominant showing in which it outscored Maryland in the paint and behind the 3-point line and outrebounded the Terrapins.
“I felt like it was good for us as a team to get that start early, just to show the team that we came here to play today and just complete the mission to win the game,” Ware said.
It was critical Indiana found a way to score early in both halves Friday night as sluggish starts like early in the season will only spell trouble, especially against higher-level opponents. Indiana will play its second Big Ten game at 9 p.m. Tuesday against Michigan in Ann Arbor. It will be available to watch on Peacock.