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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Kel’el Ware carries Indiana men’s basketball to Senior Day win over Michigan State

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After missing his fifth free throw of the game still searching for his first make at the line, sophomore center Kel’el Ware had one more opportunity to give Indiana the lead with 17.8 seconds left. 

“Don’t think — shoot,” Ware said postgame of his approach to the second free throw. 

Ware did just that, making the second, ultimately the game-winner to clinch a 65-64 victory over Michigan State on Indiana men’s basketball’s Senior Day on Sunday. The make solidified a 28-point, 12-rebound performance for Ware, his 14th double-double of the season. 

While he isn’t a senior, Sunday’s matinee may have been Ware’s last game in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as the 7-foot center is on NBA draft radars and is primed to become a first-round selection. If that’s the case, the one-year Hoosier put on a show in his finale. 

Simply put, Indiana most likely couldn’t have done it without Ware. He scored 19 of Indiana’s 31 second-half points, clogged the paint defensively with two blocks and always had an answer whenever Michigan State appeared ready for a game-breaking run. 

A large stretch of the second frame was a back-and-forth between Ware and Spartan graduate student guard Tyson Walker, who had 20 of his game-high 30 points in the second half. The two traded baskets, carrying their teams in an attempt to secure a win with Big Ten Tournament — and potentially NCAA Tournament — seeding implications on the line. 

Indiana led by as many as 17 points in the first half and Ware was a big reason why. He scored 9 points in the frame, including a 3-pointer, battled on the rebounds, swatted two attempts and even threw a quarterback-esque full-court pass for an assist.

That QB pass from Ware ? @IndianaMBB pic.twitter.com/vxHshBKH0J

However, the Hoosiers’ lead quickly evaporated out of halftime and became a 7-point deficit with 15:23 remaining. The air seemingly left the building, and the Assembly Hall crowd went quiet. However, Ware kept getting fed the ball and made the Spartans pay the price inside. 

Whether it was tips off offensive rebounds or turnaround jumpers, Ware was hardly off the mark. He kept chipping away, and soon enough, Indiana regained its lead. 

Before the season started, many critics questioned Ware’s motor. After a disappointing freshman season at the University of Oregon from the No. 7 recruit in the 2022 recruiting class, he ultimately chose Woodson and Indiana as his landing spot for a bounce-back season to re-up his NBA draft stock. 

As of late, Ware dispelled any questions about his effort and abilities. Sunday marked his third 20-point double-double in the past four games. For him, it’s been all about winning.  

“Of course, I’ve been wanting to win the whole season, but I feel like looking past it I just need to be more aggressive, and that’s what I’ve been doing on the offensive end, and just trying to help my team as much as I can on the defensive end,” Ware said. 

As the score remained tight and the clock wound down, Ware got the chance to help Indiana seal the win Sunday. Tied with under two minutes to play, he got a layup to go and got fouled, but the free throw didn’t fall. The miss marked 0-for-4 from the line at the time. 

Walker responded with a basket of his own, then the teams went scoreless for another minute. Ware got fouled on a shot and had two free throws to give Indiana the late lead. As Ware said, all he wanted to do was win, and the opportunity was right in front of him. 

He bricked the first one. It hit the heel of the rim and bounced away from the net, and it looked like the weight of the world fell on Ware’s shoulders. He dropped his head, seemingly dreading the one shot remaining ahead of him.

But also, as he said, “don’t think, just shoot. “The free throw fell through the net and seconds later, Indiana made the defensive stop and secured the game. Mission accomplished.

The victory marked four straight wins for Indiana to close the regular season and Ware’s efforts have been crucial to the streak. Indiana head coach Mike Woodson noted the progress Ware has made since the premature stages of the season and gave him credit. 

“After that first month, he’s been a totally different player,” Woodson said postgame. “We pushed him, and his teammates believe in him and I believe in him. He’s been phenomenal, been playing unbelievable, which is nice to see.” 

If it turns out to be Ware’s only season with the Hoosiers, he’ll leave as one of the program’s most talented players. A modern NBA dream, the 7-footer can score at all three levels and protect the rim defensively, which is why he is being heralded as a near first-round lock. 

Before the season started, Ware’s projections were all over the place and his alleged lack of motor was to blame. After exhibiting multiple Herculean efforts this season, sometimes carrying Indiana to victory like Sunday, he’s silenced his critics and solidified himself as a top prospect. For him, though, he’s always looking to do more. 

“It’s always still more to prove, so I don’t feel like I’ve proven myself just yet,” Ware said. 

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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