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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Indiana basketball ‘didn’t compete’ in first half, can’t sustain comeback in loss to Nebraska

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For more photos, see PHOTOS: Indiana men's basketball falls flat against Nebraska

As Indiana men’s basketball senior guard Anthony Leal plunged toward the hoop late in the second half, the Hoosiers’ hopes weren’t totally lost. 

Despite trailing 51-31 to Nebraska in the first half on Wednesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers, who’d erased the deficit and pulled within 3 in the second half, trailed by 10 as Leal soared toward the rim in transition. 

It was an improbable comeback opportunity, but not an impossible one. Yet, as Leal released the ball from the grasp of his right hand, Nebraska junior guard Brice Williams pounced on the layup and swatted it off the backboard, all but sealing the Hoosiers’ 85-70 defeat. 

“When you get smacked in the face like we did the first half, you’re not going to beat anyone,” head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “We didn’t compete. I thought the second half we competed.” 

Indiana’s furious second half resurgence came just three days after nearly mounting a similar comeback against Northwestern. In that contest, the Hoosiers rattled off 25 points in the final six minutes and lost in a tight 76-72 affair despite lagging behind 16 points earlier in the game. 

Wednesday night, Indiana’s revival was even more pronounced. In the first half, Nebraska junior guard Keisei Tominaga knocked down four triples and scored 18 points as the frontman of the Cornhuskers’ explosive offensive attack. 

After Indiana senior guard Trey Galloway’s prayer of a 3-pointer missed in the waning seconds of the first half, the Hoosier faithful expressed their disappointment perhaps in a way they haven’t all season. 

“I mean, it’s part of it. I can’t worry about that,” Galloway said of the negative fan reception. “I got to worry about helping my team, and we got to be focused on each other and can’t worry about the outside noise — just be a unit and stick together.” 

Galloway alone turned the ball over four times in the first half, and Indiana scored just 11 points outside of sophomore center Kel’el Ware and freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako. In the second half, after shaking off an alley-oop dunk from Williams within the first 10 seconds, the Hoosiers surged.

With a little over 13 minutes left, Indiana had jumped on a 15-6 run. Then, sophomore guard CJ Gunn splashed a triple from the corner to shrink the deficit to 8. Roughly 20 seconds later, Assembly Hall was unleashed. 

Indiana sophomore forward Malik Reneau poked the ball away from Nebraska junior forward Rienk Mast at the top of the key and had no one between him and the hoop on the other end. Reneau collected the ball just past halfcourt and only needed one dribble before leaping to slam home a two-handed flush. 

Reneau’s dunk capped off an 11-0 run — one that drew the Hoosiers within 6 points. A little over a minute later, Gunn drained his second 3-pointer of the half to cut the lead to 59-56, the Hoosiers’ thinnest margin since early in the first half. 

While Gunn’s shot appeared to be a potential spark for a comeback, it proved to be the precipice for Indiana’s defeat. Nebraska sophomore guard Jamarques Lawrence quieted the momentum with a triple of his own shortly thereafter, and the Cornhuskers wouldn’t allow their lead to fall below 8 points in the remainder of the game. 

“Yeah, we played great the second half to get back in it to cut it to three, but we had no defensive effort I thought the first half,” Woodson said. “We just weren't up to touch. (Nebraska) made some tough threes, but you can't have halves like that.” 

Without the services of injured sixth-year senior guard Xavier Johnson, whom Woodson has repeatedly lamented not having on the floor, Indiana’s backcourt continues to struggle. Freshman guard Gabe Cupps went scoreless on six shots and Galloway only mustered 8 points.

With a 58% clip from the free throw line and a ghastly 19% mark from deep, Indiana’s shooting struggles would have been difficult to overcome regardless of the second half push. As was evident against Northwestern and a handful of other times this season, the Hoosiers rarely overcome their lethargic starts.

One of the few times they did, Feb. 6 in a 76-73 comeback win over Ohio State, Reneau and Galloway combined for 51 points, and Indiana played a near-perfect second period. That’s not a winning recipe. 

Staring down just five games left in the regular season, one of the most consistent aspects of this Indiana team remains its half to half inconsistency. 

“Not putting full games together,” Woodson said. “That's what frustrating.” 

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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