The Minute After: Harvard

  • 11/26/2023 7:35 pm in

Thoughts on an 89-76 win against the Crimson:

So much of Indiana’s season so far has felt like a rinse and repeat.

And that’s pretty much what we got in the first half of this one. The defensive attention, especially against the 3-point line, was an issue. The Crimson outscored the Hoosiers by 18 points from deep. Indiana attempted just six. Harvard made eight. (To be fair, a couple of shots from Indiana that dropped came with a foot on the 3-point line.) The Hoosiers also allowed Harvard to capture 33 percent of its missed shots. (Though that was at least balanced out better tonight, with the Hoosiers snagging 43 percent of theirs.) Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway, the team’s senior captains and backcourt starters, combined for just 2-of-8 shooting and five points.

Indiana contained freshman phenom Malik Mack through the first 13 minutes of game action. But he started to get it going as the first half ended, including an acrobatic buzzer-beating 3-pointer that put the Crimson up one (40-39) heading into the break. The Hoosiers failed to sustain consistent positive energy throughout the first 20 minutes, giving up 1.15 points per possession to the Crimson.

As the second half began, Xavier Johnson, listed as questionable before the game, didn’t start due to an injury and never returned in this one. Then, just two minutes in, Malik Reneau appeared to tweak his back and called out of the game. Suddenly, Indiana was down two starters with the game tied at 45-all. But with things looking a bit dicey, the Hoosiers put together a strong second half, arguably its best 20 minutes of basketball this season, en route to a 13-point win against the Crimson.

It helps to have Kel’el Ware. The Oregon transfer was an unstoppable, efficient force across 32 minutes of action tonight. He scored a career-high 28 points on 12-of-13 shooting from the floor. Ware had it all going offensively. His turnaround jumper in the paint. The lefty hook. A couple of alley-oop finishes. A 3-pointer and a long 2 to boot. Ware also added eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks to punctuate a stat-sheet-stuffing performance. Reneau was able to return to action at the 14:35 mark in the second half and continued his early-season dominance down low. He scored seven after returning en route to 17 total on 8-of-14 shooting. It was a big night for the Hoosiers in the paint as they scored a cool 50 down low to Harvard’s 28. Their 1.23 points per possession for the game is a season-high.

While there were still some glaring defensive lapses from Mackenzie Mgbako again tonight, he had his best game of the season. Mgbako pumped in a career-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, though he was just 1-of-5 from deep. The freshman also competed well on the boards, grabbing eight. After a missed Reneau free throw with 13:09 to go in the second half, Mgbako was able to outmuscle Harvard for an offensive rebound putback. He was fouled in the process and hit the ensuing and-1 free throw.

“He’s got a ways to go but tonight was progress,” Mike Woodson said after the game. “He’s just got to continue to work. You do that, I think good things will happen.”

With Johnson out and Cupps not going the full 20 minutes of the second half, Woodson went to Anthony Leal for the first time all season. Leal more than held his own and played with maturity to help Indiana on a night its backcourt needed some more depth. It also helped that Harvard shot just 1-of-9 from deep in the second half, missing some solid looks.

It’s taken a different shape than expected. It’s far from a finished product. But the Hoosiers are 5-1 heading into Big Ten play with their lone loss coming against one of the best teams in the country. It’s a start most everyone would have taken. We’ll see where it goes from here.

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