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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

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Mackenzie Mgbako exhibits growth in Indiana’s men’s basketball’s win over Minnesota

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Coming into Indiana men’s basketball’s contest against Minnesota, freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako had a defined role and play style. Often roaming the perimeter in search of spot-up 3-pointers or mid-range jumpers, Mgbako seldom displayed more offensive creativity. 

That changed Friday night when the heralded freshman posted a career-high 19 points, consistently attacking the basket and opening up the floor doing so. He took advantage of the scouting report against him, a night where his growth throughout the season showed. 

“I thought he was aggressive right from the start,” head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “He got some good looks early that he made. I ran a couple of plays for him that he was able to knock shots down and the way (Minnesota) double-teamed, it opened him up on the backside.” 

Mgbako produced early. On the Hoosiers’ second possession of the game, senior guard Trey Galloway found Mgbako in the left corner for a 3-point attempt which bounced up off the rim, hit it once more, then rolled in, a sign of the good night to come for the forward. 

After establishing the threat of his outside shooting, Mgbako started to blow by defenders driving to the paint. His aggressiveness paid off with tough finishes for 2 points or free throw opportunities. Postgame, sophomore center Kel’el Ware mentioned Mgbako’s increasing efforts to attack the rim and how it’s shown. 

“I always encourage Mack just to go to the rim, get fouled, try to create anything that can get us a bucket,” Ware said. “He works on it in practice, and it translates to the game and just being more aggressive.” 

Mgbako’s best stretch came seven minutes into the contest as the Hoosiers started to build on a double-digit lead and gathered momentum. First, the freshman drove at the rim for a transition layup. Then, Galloway stole a pass and tossed it to Mgbako, who exhibited his improved decision making by drawing in the sole Golden Gopher defender before lobbing it up to Galloway for a dunk. 

The freshman continued to dominate in the first half, showing the most offensive intensity he had up to date. He relentlessly drove to the basket for easy lay ins, even corralling an offensive rebound for a putback off a fast break miss. He drew a foul and sank the free throws to cap off the first frame in which Indiana led by 10 and Mgbako put up 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal with no turnovers. 

His offense slowed down in the latter half besides an early 3-pointer and late free throws, but it wasn’t the only area he impacted in the matchup. Mgbako was active defensively by communicating with teammates and tracking the ball on the perimeter, showing much more engagement compared to his lackadaisical early season defensive efforts. 

The Gladstone, New Jersey, native said it’s all connected. As Mgbako has adapted to the pace and play style at Indiana, all phases of the game are starting to click for him, and it’s improving his game all around. 

“I feel like defense is the No. 1 thing (Woodson)’s been trying to harp on because I feel like defense creates offense, and that’s really it,” Mgbako said. 

The freshman forward struggled in his first five collegiate games but has since found his footing. In those five games, he averaged 5 points on 32% shooting, including 1-for-13 from 3-point range. In Indiana’s last 12 games, however, Mgbako has scored 12.3 points per game on 42.3% shooting and 21-for-57 from three. 

“It’s not just Mackenzie, you’ve got to understand that these young guys, they take a while to develop,” Woodson said. “But he’s put in the work, and he’s continuing to work, along with the rest of our young players. All we can do as coaches is continue to teach and push and try to get as much out of them as we can.” 

Mgbako’s 3-point shooting alone opens Indiana’s offense up and creates much-needed floor spacing, but the element of attacking off the dribble can provide an extra layer to the Hoosiers’ scoring attack as evident Friday night. Mgbako was one of four Indiana double-digit scorers as the Hoosiers knocked down six long balls and had 27 opportunities at the free throw line. 

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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