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Saturday, May 18
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Post-centric lineup hinders opportunity for Indiana basketball in loss to Northwestern

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As he has all year, Indiana men’s basketball sophomore forward Malik Reneau twirled around a defender and used his left hand to convert a contested layup over a defender.  

This time, which came with just under 13 minutes remaining in the Hoosiers’ 76-72 loss to Northwestern on Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, sprung program legend Trayce Jackson-Davis out of his courtside seat. 

Jackson-Davis — eyes locked on Reneau as he trotted back on defense — nodded his head and flexed his arms. It was the kind of play Hoosier fans became accustomed to seeing constantly with the now Golden State Warriors forward over the last four years. 

That was a moment of brilliance for Reneau

But less than two minutes prior, Reneau bypassed an open look for freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako on the perimeter and kept the ball for himself in the post. Reneau coughed it up, and Northwestern graduate guard Ryan Langborg splashed a triple on the other end just 10 seconds later. 

That was a microcosm of Reneau’s 9-point, four-turnover afternoon. 

“He was sitting right there. I don’t know if he saw him or not, but he went into a bad shot,” head coach Mike Woodson said of Reneau postgame. “They came back and hit a three and we never recovered from that point on.” 

With a little over six minutes remaining against Northwestern, Reneau received his fifth foul, trudged toward Indiana’s bench and slumped into his seat. Foul trouble has plagued the Miami, Florida, native since the outset of his Hoosier career, and Sunday’s game marked Reneau’s fifth time fouling out this season. 

As a freshman, those instances could be attributed to his youth and exuberance. But now, as Indiana’s leading scorer and a player the Hoosiers run their offense through, they’ve become more problematic. 

Reneau picked up a trio of fouls in the first half, and for a considerable portion of the second half, he played clean. Then, in a span of 10 seconds, Reneau was assessed a pair of fouls on offense and defense, leaving the Hoosiers without a key cog for the final stretch of play. 

“I wasn’t happy with him after the game,” Woodson said. “We just got to keep working with him because we need him on the basketball floor.” 

Despite the groans and sighs that ensued from Reneau’s exit, Indiana embarked on its finest offensive showing of the afternoon without him. Aided by a triple from freshman guard Gabe Cupps and terrific play from freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako, the Hoosiers notched 11 unanswered points and shrunk Northwestern’s lead to 5. 

With Indiana sophomore center Kel’el Ware acting as the team’s only true interior presence during the stretch, the Hoosiers’ shooters found ample opportunity outside. In part due to the time crunch, Indiana pushed the pace on offense in a way it hadn’t all game. 

Following Reneau’s fifth foul, the Hoosiers drained three shots from beyond the arc in a little over four minutes — as many as they had in the entire game prior. Mgbako scored 9 of his 20 points in the final six minutes, as well. 

Indiana’s offense frequently plays with a slow tempo, opting to allow Reneau or Ware to methodically work in the paint instead of getting out and running in transition. 

“I think it’s just the pace we run it with,” Cupps said of the first half offensive struggles. “Obviously the last four minutes we were pushing the ball. We were running everything with pace, and we have athletic, quick guys, guys that can make plays.” 

In a quick pick and roll offense in the final six minutes, Indiana turned what seemed like a once-insurmountable lead into a legitimate comeback opportunity. With nine seconds left, the Hoosiers were down by just 3. 

The Reneau and Ware tandem, while effective in spurts, bears similarity to the dynamic of how the offense ran with Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson in previous years. The ball can stick in the post for stretches of the shot clock, allowing defenses to swarm and limit opportunity for other players. 

Sunday afternoon, Mgbako assumed Reneau’s role but instead of planting himself on the block, operated from the wing. Some of that ability stemmed from Northwestern’s relatively shorter rotation, but Woodson said he could experiment with smaller lineups moving forward. 

While Indiana didn’t make the shots it needed to early, and saw its lethargic start lead to a comfortable Northwestern advantage, its play down the final stretch offered a glimpse of possibility. 

“It’s just having a consistent pace,” Cupps said. “We need to do it from the jump instead of waiting until our backs are against the wall.” 

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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