Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Indiana men’s basketball frontcourt confined in blowout quarterfinal loss to Nebraska

Iu vs Nebe -Big10-final-10.jpg

On March 4, in his weekly radio show appearance, Indiana men’s basketball head coach Mike Woodson reaffirmed his belief that college basketball is played “inside out.” Indeed, the Hoosiers ran their offense through sophomore forwards Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware the entire season, just as they did with Trayce Jackson-Davis the last four years.  

The recipe produced mixed results; while Indiana finished dead last in the Big Ten in 3-pointers this season at five per game, it won five consecutive contests in the last two and a half weeks, including Thursday night’s gritty 61-59 win over Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. 

In that span, Ware averaged 21.6 points and Reneau averaged just under 13. Yet, the frontcourt tandem scored eight and nine, respectively, Friday night in the Hoosiers’ bleak 93-66 defeat to Nebraska in the quarterfinals. Against a team built to shoot — early and often — Indiana’s post-heavy offense floundered. 

“Every loss is frustrating because you go in the game with the game plan and you try to get your team to play at a high level,” Woodson said postgame. “Tonight, they were a step ahead of everything that we wanted to do, and you've got to give them credit.” 

Unlike Penn State, who frequently left its bigs alone to guard Ware and Reneau, Nebraska sent ferocious double teams to the post. Nebraska junior forward Rienk Mast and senior forward Josiah Allick played with a level of physicality in the paint that Indiana simply didn’t appear prepared for. 

Those double teams aren’t new for the tandem. Reneau and Ware have experienced the extra pressure often this season but been able to quickly scan the floor and pass to an open man. Friday night, those snap decisions were lacking. 

“Malik and Ware have seen double teams all year from the back side, from the top side, from what we call the soft spot up top to the ball,” Woodson said. “They didn't read well tonight. They didn't read the back side, and we were forcing things early to the point where we just didn't make the right play.” 

Early in the game, Reneau tried to plow through multiple defenders and generate looks near the hoop, but his efforts were mostly futile. And with Ware consistently being denied the entry passes that allow him to create turnaround jumpers and hook shots, the Hoosiers’ offensive identity was sapped. 

The pair turned the ball over three times apiece, a few of which coming on errant passes out of double teams. As he has all season, Reneau experienced foul trouble in the first half and fouled out of the game with just over nine minutes left. 

It was perhaps the last game Ware — who is garnering buzz as a first-round NBA draft pick — will ever play in the Indiana uniform. With Woodson confirmed to reject an NIT invite and shift the focus to building the roster for next season, attention will inevitably be paid to adding outside shooting threats. 

When met with questions about Indiana’s 3-point shot-making, or lack thereof, this season, Woodson often scoffed. Friday night, he didn’t delineate what exactly he’s looking for in the transfer portal, but acknowledged changes are a necessity. 

“It's going to come very quickly,” Woodson said of the portal. “We've got to be in position to do our homework and our due diligence on these players based on who we might want to come in to fill a spot to help us move forward next season.” 

While the Big Ten is known for its bruising play style, Nebraska presents the blueprint of a more modern squad. Nearly every player on the floor at all times is capable of shooting from deep, and senior Keisei Tominaga is one of the most dangerous and crafty guards in the nation. 

Tominaga torched the Hoosiers for 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, and junior guard Brice Williams added 23 points of his own with four triples, as well. In each of the team’s two regular season meetings, Nebraska converted at least 12 3-pointers and Tominaga scored at least 20 points. 

Ware scored at least 17 points in both of those matchups, and after Friday night’s loss, it’s become apparent Indiana’s playstyle isn’t conducive to beating teams like the Cornhuskers. With Montverde Academy senior sharpshooter Liam McNeeley recently revoking his commitment to Indiana, the onus for Woodson to add players who can space the floor continues to grow. 

“We've just got a lot of work to do this summer to get better,” Woodson said. “I don't want to sit here this time next year and not be playing in the tournament.” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

Get stories like this in your inbox