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Wednesday, June 19
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Stout defensive night scrapes Indiana men’s basketball by Penn State in Big Ten Tournament

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Penn State had haunted Indiana men’s basketball and did so with offensive proficiency before Thursday night. Winning four consecutive games and averaging 82.5 points in the contests, the Nittany Lions consistently outmatched the Hoosiers’ defensive game plans. 

That kind of offensive exhibition changed in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, and it helped the Hoosiers finally get past their Nittany Lion demons. Indiana held Penn State to 59 points and a last-second layup helped the Hoosiers advance to the quarterfinals. 

“Tonight, overall defensively what we set out to do was really, really good for 40 minutes,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. 

Indiana’s defensive display — and Penn State’s inability to score — was prevalent from the opening tip. The Nittany Lions started the game 1-for-11 from the field (9%), a combination of Hoosier defenders providing close coverage on every man and Penn State failing to connect on open looks. 

Sophomore center Kel’el Ware and sophomore forward Malik Reneau’s inside presence altered several shots at the rim, and it made a difference. Penn State missed its first 13 layups of the game, and even 6-foot-11 graduate student forward Qudus Wahab was unable to find the bottom of the net inside the paint. 

No matter how open or contested a look was, there was seemingly an invisible lid around the Nittany Lions’ rim. Dunks were the only reliable form of shot for Penn State, but Indiana still struggled to pull away. 

One of the key ingredients to Indiana’s defensive recipe of success was its physicality, but it started to backfire when foul trouble creeped its way into the game. Reneau, Ware and senior guard Anthony Leal all picked up two fouls in the first half, and it changed the level of physicality the Hoosiers could guard with. 

The fouls also provided the Nittany Lions a mainstream source of scoring at the free throw line. The sixth-best free throw shooting team in the Big Ten took advantage by going 10-for-11 at the stripe in the first half.  

Indiana led the entire first frame, but after holding Penn State to 7-for-33 shooting (21.2%), the Hoosiers likely desired a larger lead than the 5-point advantage they had at the break. Straight out of halftime, Penn State started to find its rhythm and Indiana discovered the damage it could do — the same damage the Nittany Lions poured on with 84 points per game in the season sweep. 

Penn State started the latter frame 5-for-7 from the field and turned its 5-point deficit into a 6-point advantage. The floodgates finally opened, and danger seemed imminent for Indiana. 

However, Indiana’s defense recovered and reverted to its first half ways. It shut the Nittany Lions down to 4-for-18 (22.2%) shooting the remainder of the half and reemployed its physical presence. 

Graduate student guard Ace Baldwin Jr., recently named All-Big Ten third team, was Penn State’s primary threat throughout the season and torched Indiana for 45 points in the teams’ two matchups earlier in the season. Woodson identified Baldwin’s importance and focused on him, a strategy that worked out. Baldwin finished with 9 points on 3-for-15 shooting. 

“We just tried to stay as close to Baldwin as we could,” Woodson said. “Our bigs were more up, where he actually saw bodies, and we tried to play in to get out.” 

Down the stretch it was a game of constant lead changes and practically turned into a free throw contest, neither team able to find offensive consistency. However, it was the Hoosiers who managed to get one final basket — coming from an offensive rebound off a missed shot to follow the game’s theme — to come away with the 61-59 win. 

Indiana’s defensive performance against the Nittany Lions was an improvement in all areas compared to its prior losses, and it was just enough to escape with a victory. Woodson knew it wasn’t the kind of game any team preferred, but it was one that produced the right result for his program. 

“It was just one of those type of games, an ugly game, but we made the plays we needed to make coming down the homestretch,” Woodson 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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