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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: After another home loss, it’s time to take Indiana basketball for what it is

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Malik Reneau smothered his face with his hands, visibly frustrated. Nine seconds later, his hands were on his head. 

Indiana men’s basketball’s sophomore forward and leading scorer had been called for consecutive fouls, his fourth and fifth of the game. As he trudged to the bench, his team trailing by 14 points with 6:23 to play, the Hoosiers appeared done. 

A minute and a half later, senior guard Trey Galloway tossed his hands in the air, bemused his right-handed hook shot rolled around the rim but didn’t fall. 

The crowd inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall mirrored Galloway’s reaction. For the second time in as many home games, many fans left at the under-four timeout. 

Indiana scratched, clawed and shot its way back into Sunday afternoon’s contest against Northwestern over the final four minutes — but still fell short, taking a 76-72 loss to the Wildcats. 

The Hoosiers (14-11, 6-8 Big Ten) have now lost three of their last four games, and head coach Mike Woodson still hasn’t beaten Northwestern in his three seasons at the helm. 

By now, the reality of Indiana’s season is clear: the Hoosiers’ only path to the NCAA Tournament is winning the Big Ten Tournament, something they’ve never done despite 26 tries. 

Indiana, which hasn’t beaten a ranked team this season and has only one Quadrant 1 victory, has a lackluster resume, a team devoid of shooters and a worrisome yet increasingly common lack of consistent competitiveness. 

The Hoosiers looked flat early. They trailed by as much as 11 points in the first half and were down by 8 at the break. Their second half deficit reached 16 points. A late comeback effort that ultimately fell short certainly doesn’t override those woes. 

 “It's always good to come out beginning of the game with energy,” sophomore center Kel’el Ware said postgame. “I feel like we lacked it a little bit. We dug ourselves too deep of a hole in the second half to come back.” 

How, after being given eight days to regroup following a 20-point loss to rival Purdue, can the Hoosiers come out less energized than a Wildcats squad that played three days prior? 

Perhaps more pressing, how can it keep happening? 

Indiana has trailed by double digits in each of its past four games, and if it hadn’t sparked an improbable 18-point comeback against Ohio State on Feb. 6, it would be winless in February. 

Woodson has mentioned a lack of toughness or fight several times this season — most recently on Jan. 16 after a 21-point loss to Purdue and Feb. 3 following an 85-71 defeat to Penn State — and the Hoosiers once more lost the effort battle Sunday. 

“I thought the 50/50 balls they beat us to tonight,” Woodson said. 

Indiana shot 51% from the field while limiting Northwestern to just 35% — and still lost, largely due to a 12-of-21 performance at the free-throw line and recording 11 turnovers to the Wildcats’ three. 

The Hoosiers have shot worse than 60% from the foul stripe on seven occasions this year. They entered as the second-worst free-throw shooting team in the Big Ten. They’re No. 11 out of 14 teams in 3-point shooting and went just 6-of-18 from distance Sunday. 

Northwestern, conversely, went 22-of-28 at the free-throw line and 8-of-23 from deep, both better clips than Indiana’s. The Wildcats led for nearly 35 minutes. The Hoosiers, who were 2-point favorites, were ahead for just 1:33. 

Indiana struggled to shoot, significantly lost the turnover battle, was outrebounded, allowed 14 offensive boards and was outhustled — all of which culminates in another defeat as the season trundles away. 

“You got to make shots,” Woodson said. “We had some good looks and we just didn't knock them down. Nothing scientific about it. We moved the ball well enough to get open shots. You got to step up and make them. It's that simple.” 

The Hoosiers scored 25 points over the final six minutes, all of which came after Reneau’s exit. Freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako, who scored 19 points in the second half en route to a career-high 20, moved to the power forward spot as Indiana went for a small-ball lineup. 

An offensive outburst followed, and Woodson said the lineup is something to consider moving forward — but there are only six regular season games left. Indiana shouldn’t need to search for new personnel groupings in the middle of February. 

But in a season of have-not's and could’ve-been’s, Woodson’s pursuit of a new result feels far too little, far too late — and Indiana’s uncompetitive campaign appears to have as much life as the team showed for the first 35 minutes. 

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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