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The Indiana Daily Student

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Absence of offensive identity hinders Indiana men’s basketball in loss to Wisconsin

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For more photos, see PHOTOS: Indiana men's basketball comes up short on the road against Wisconsin

Indiana men’s basketball entered halftime trailing Wisconsin by 13 points and providing little hope Friday night. The Hoosiers displayed a subpar offensive effort — a common theme during the 2023-24 campaign — and their second-half effort wasn’t enough to escape the early deficit in a 91-79 defeat. 

Besides sophomore forward Malik Reneau’s 28 points and freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako’s 15 second half points, the Hoosiers exhibited no sense of direction offensively. Several lengthy scoring droughts dug a hole too deep for Indiana to threaten the Badgers. 

The Hoosiers’ bad luck started before the game tipped off. Sophomore center Kel’el Ware — the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.2 points per game — was ruled out and seen with a boot on his right foot. The majority of his minutes were replaced by junior forward Payton Sparks, who averaged just 2.8 points per contest entering Friday night. 

Indiana started strongly before the first media timeout, leading 8-3 after the first four minutes. Early on, the Hoosiers showed heavy reliance on Reneau with multiple dump downs to the post, paying off with three layups. 

However, it didn’t take long for Wisconsin’s defense to adjust and for Indiana’s rhythm to stall. Shortly after the Badgers took their first lead, Indiana suffered a four minute, three second scoring spell, unable to get a shot to fall. 

Indiana’s poor shot selection was the catalyst for the cold streak. The Hoosiers heaved four long two-pointers in the first 10 minutes alone — notably the least efficient shot in basketball. Usually taken as a last-ditch effort with the shot clock winding down, this wasn’t the case when Indiana elected to shoot. 

Earlier in the season, shoddy outside shooting was Indiana’s cause of trouble scoring the ball. Making — and taking — a low volume of 3-pointers and struggling to convert at the free throw line caused issues for the Hoosiers against their mid-major non-conference opponents, causing multiple contests to be closer than comfort. 

Indiana has shown growth from beyond the arc after starting to connect against Auburn on Dec. 9, especially from Mgbako and better efficiency from senior guard Trey Galloway but reverted to its early season struggles Friday night. The Hoosiers shot 1-for-5 from deep in the first half compared to the Badgers going 4-for-11, creating a majority of Indiana’s 13-point halftime deficit. 

Alongside the apparent phobia of the 3-point line was a lack of creativity, motion and distribution. Of Indiana’s 10 field goals in the first frame, only one came on an assist.  

Still, Indiana showed flashes of what its offense is capable of to open the second half. After Wisconsin opened the frame with a basket, the Hoosiers went on an 18-6 run led by Reneau and Mgbako. The freshman forward showed aggression to earn trips to the free throw line, and Reneau found his groove in the post. The deficit dropped to 7 points, and Indiana appeared to have life — but it was short-lived. 

The Badgers ran away with an 18-2 run in three minutes. The Hoosiers only missed one shot in the span but committed multiple turnovers — Reneau being the culprit twice — while sophomore guard CJ Gunn was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul, earning an ejection. 

“Our spurts where we’re just standing around and stagnant on offense, we gotta figure out a way to get the ball moving side-to-side and get open shots, layups and stuff like that,” Reneau said postgame. 

Wisconsin all but ended the contest with the stretch. It earned the Badgers a 23-point advantage, preventing the Hoosiers from getting closer than 10 points in the 12-point defeat. 

Indiana managed to score 53 points in the latter half, including five 3-pointers and a 12-for-15 performance from the free throw line, but the improved offensive effort was far too late to make a difference. 

The Hoosiers displayed their full capabilities at various points throughout the season, and the results are promising when achieved, including a 100-point outing against Kennesaw State University. However, Indiana’s issue is maintaining the consistency and repetition to compete in the Big Ten and pose an offensive threat.   

RelatedCOLUMN: Malik Reneau stars, Indiana men’s basketball’s offense has more options than believed Reneau’s career-high highlighted a balanced scoring effort in the Hoosiers’ victory.

Wielding a 4-4 conference record after Friday’s loss, it’s now or never for the Hoosiers to establish an offensive identity — and the team’s fate for the remainder of the season. A tough test lies on the road ahead against No. 14 Illinois on Jan. 27 and a resume-building win would go a long way for an Indiana team in desperate need of a quality result. 

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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