Five takeaways from Indiana’s win against Harvard

  • 11/27/2023 9:59 am in

Indiana improved to 5-1 with an 89-76 win against Harvard on Sunday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Here are five takeaways from the win against the Crimson:

Kel’el Ware continues his stellar start to the season

Talent has never been a question for Ware, a former top-10 recruit who spent his freshman season at Oregon.

Production, however, was a major issue last season for Ware, which is why he’s in college this season rather than the NBA.

Mike Woodson has shown he trusts Ware and the third-year IU coach has been rewarded for that trust through six games.

Sunday’s performance by Ware was his best yet as a Hoosier. He finished with a career-high 28 points and shot 12-for-13 from the field. Ware’s only miss was a point-blank look that he rebounded himself and put back in.

He also contributed eight rebounds – four were offensive – three assists, three steals and two blocked shots in 32 minutes.

It remains to be seen how Ware will perform against the nation’s elite big men like Hunter Dickinson of Kansas and Purdue’s Zach Edey. But there’s no disputing Ware has been Indiana’s best – and most valuable – player through six games.

Mackenzie Mgbako breaks out with an 18-point, eight-rebound effort

Indiana’s star freshman arrived in Bloomington with significant expectations. But through five games, Mgbako had struggled on both ends of the floor.

Sunday’s game for Mgbako was a step forward.

The Gladstone, New Jersey native scored a season-best 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the field. While he only made one of his five 3-point attempts, Mgbako was able to score from the midrange, at the rim and off of rebounds.

He logged 31 minutes after not playing more than 23 minutes in the first five games.

Mgbako still had several defensive breakdowns, but he was more engaged on that end, as evidenced by his rebounding numbers. Mgbako grabbed five defensive rebounds, a team-best.

“I stayed locked in and stayed aggressive,” Mgbako said. “I stayed true to my game, saw what the defense was giving me, and responded with that.”

The challenge now for Mgbako is stringing together strong performances. Indiana doesn’t need him to score 18 points per game, but if he can be a double-figure scoring threat that rebounds, it’s a boost to an already productive frontcourt with Ware and Malik Reneau.

Indiana wins without Xavier Johnson in the second half

Sixth-year guard Xavier Johnson didn’t look healthy in the first half. Johnson was limping on several possessions and lacked explosion moving side-to-side.

Johnson came out of the locker room for the second half, briefly participated in warmups and shut it down. He sat on the bench with ice on his foot for the final 20 minutes.

Postgame, Woodson didn’t provide a firm status on Johnson, who injured the foot late in the Army game but played in both Empire Classic games in New York.

Indiana outscored Harvard by 14 in the second half with their leader on the bench.

The Hoosiers got critical minutes from Gabe Cupps and Anthony Leal in Johnson’s absence. Neither player scored, but Cupps and Leal moved the ball and had limited mistakes.

“It is a big loss. Xavier is a big piece to the puzzle,” Woodson said postgame. “My theme has always been next man up. Guys have to stay ready to play. Whoever is called up has to step up and play. I thought Anthony Leal came in and gave us some positive minutes. Gabe Cupps brought it home down the stretch.”

Malik Reneau’s consistency

While Ware led the way for Indiana with 28 points, Reneau had a quiet 17 points in 30 minutes.

It was the sixth straight game Reneau has scored in double figures to begin the season. And he did it while battling a sore back that sent him to the bench early in the second half.

Reneau’s rebounding still hasn’t been to the level that Woodson would like, but it’s hard to find another fault in his game thus far.

He’s shooting 65.5 percent on 2s and 71.4 percent on free throws so far.

And his passing was better on Sunday, as he finished with five assists, which tied for a team-high. Reneau also had three steals, tying his career-best from last season.

This was Indiana’s best overall performance of the season

After struggling to get wins in the first three games of the season, getting blown out by UConn and needing a late run to beat Louisville, it’s clear Indiana has plenty of room for growth.

But Sunday’s performance showed progress and was clearly the best overall performance of the young season.

Woodson wasn’t happy with the 76 points the Hoosiers gave up, but scoring 89 points while only making four 3-pointers was an impressive offensive effort.

Indiana had just 12 turnovers, had 20 assists as a team and scored 50 points in the paint.

The Hoosiers still have a lot to work on – 3-point shooting, defensive rotations are chief among the current issues – but Sunday’s performance was encouraging.

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