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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Indiana men’s basketball’s bench fails to contribute in loss to Rutgers

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Trailing by double digits with 6:36 remaining in the game, Indiana senior forward Anthony Walker stared down sophomore forward Malik Reneau before zipping a pass his way — one Reneau didn’t see coming. Instead, Rutgers senior forward Mawot Mag read Walker like a book and stole the attempt for an easy dunk. 

Merely 22 seconds later, Walker faltered again with a double-dribble infraction. The series of plays epitomized the lack of contributions Indiana men’s basketball’s bench provided in its 66-57 loss at Rutgers on Tuesday night in Piscataway, New Jersey. 

It was a night where the Hoosiers needed the second unit to come through. Sixth-year guard Xavier Johnson was ejected early in the second half, and Indiana’s starting unit struggled to find an offensive rhythm, but the bench wasn’t able to reap the results. 

Indiana substituted four of its starters out of the game — with the exception of sophomore center Kel’el Ware — just under 10 minutes into the contest with an 18-11 lead. Aside from an early basket by freshman guard Gabe Cupps, the Hoosier bench failed to produce on either side of the ball. 

In the four-minute stretch Indiana featured one starting player, Rutgers outscored the Hoosiers 8-2. Indiana missed seven consecutive shots after Cupps’ make and endured a six-minute scoreless drought while committing three turnovers in that time. 

Indiana head coach Mike Woodson has displayed a similar substitution pattern in the first half throughout the season, and fans and the media continue to question as to whether the lineup of four bench players has proved effective. In Tuesday night’s postgame conference, Woodson stuck to his game plan. 

“You can’t play everybody 40 minutes,” Woodson said. “I feel good about our bench, but I need them to give us more.” 

Despite frequent substitutions in the second half — and the permanent replacement for Johnson with 13 minutes to go — the Hoosiers’ second unit was unable to fill Johnson’s void and couldn’t produce any spacing nor offensive flow. 

Sophomore guard CJ Gunn was the brightest spot from the bleak bench with two 3-pointers and two steals, his first triple helping Indiana with an early 7-0 run. Still, his second 3-pointer came in garbage time, and he shot 2-for-7 from the field.  

A big reason why Rutgers was able to dictate the pace and play style consistently Tuesday night was because of its productive bench. The Scarlet Knights’ second unit doubled the Hoosiers’ bench with 16 points and — even when utilizing mass substitution patterns — always fielded a balance of players that could contribute to both sides, something Indiana’s second unit didn’t display. 

When facing the late double-digit deficit, Indiana was forced to rely on its worn-out starters to attempt the comeback because of the lack of offensive personnel on the second unit. 

Indiana’s six players off the bench combined for a plus-minus total of –38 in limited playing time as opposed to the starters totaling –7 with four starters playing more than 30 minutes. 

“I’ve elected to go to my bench this season, and I’ve gotten some good results,” Woodson said. “Tonight, they didn’t kill us, but they let them (Rutgers) back in the game.” 

Indiana’s second unit’s failure to pose a threat doesn’t just apply to Tuesday night’s loss. Prior to the game, the Hoosiers ranked tied for 259th out of 351 teams in Division I with 17.6 bench points per game, a number which will now drop. 

Tuesday night also proved the lack of production could be detrimental to Indiana’s hopes of contending in the Big Ten and vying for an NCAA Tournament bid. Facing the gauntlet of physical teams in the Big Ten with a schedule consisting of multiple games per week, fatigue may play a factor as time wears on. If Indiana’s bench doesn’t show improvement, the Hoosiers’ successes could rely heavily on the starting unit’s play like they have so far. 

Next up for Indiana is a matchup against Minnesota. The Hoosiers and Golden Gophers will face off at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. 

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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