The Minute After: Morehead State

  • 12/19/2023 9:48 pm in

Thoughts on a 69-68 win against the Eagles:

This was always going to be a part of the schedule where Indiana could slip and fall.

Coming off the emotional hangover of the Kansas game — whether win or lose — and playing three games in six days heading into Christmas break isn’t ideal. And yet, Indiana has to be better than tonight’s performance. Way better. It’s one thing to start slow and lack focus and energy. But as Indiana’s slow start turned into a downright terrible first half, which turned into a 15-point deficit with just 8:58 to play, the Hoosiers looked well on their way to a loss. Morehead State had a 96.4 percent win probability at that moment. And with Indiana’s margin for making the NCAA tournament already razor thin, this is the type of resumé-killing loss that could have made a tourney berth extremely difficult.

But the Hoosiers pulled a rabbit out of the hat down the stretch, ripping off a 20-4 run to eke out the one-point victory, 69-68. And even with all the momentum late, this one still almost slipped away. After Mackenzie Mgbako missed a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left and Indiana up a point, Malik Reneau grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback. But Reneau missed both free throws and the Eagles got the ball back with a chance to win the game. Jordan Lathon, who absolutely torched Indiana tonight with 30 points, then got switched onto Reneau with the clock ticking down. He took Reneau 1-on-1, but Indiana’s sophomore redeemed himself after the free throw misses, blocking Lathon’s jumper to seal the victory for the Hoosiers.

The numbers for Indiana tonight in some categories are downright dreadful. Indiana scored a woeful .72 points per possession and 25 points in the first half. The Hoosiers continually picked up fouls against the Eagles for a strong free-throw rate of 44 percent. And yet, they made just 16-of-28 (57.1 percent) from the line. And the 3-point shooting continues to struggle. Indiana missed all six attempts in the first half and ended the game 3-for-16 (19 percent). Morehead State came into the contest with one of the worst turnover percentages in the country (22.6 percent, 354th). Still, Indiana turned the Eagles over just seven times (10 percent) and scored only seven points off those turnovers.

As defenses have keyed on him more, Kel’el Ware has struggled. The Oregon transfer is now 8-for-28 (28.5 percent) from the field over the last three games. Other than a quick eight-point burst in the first two-plus minutes of the second half, he scored just one other bucket for a total of 10 points for the game. Mackenzie Mgbako went 3-of-14 from the field in this one. Gabe Cupps, Kaleb Banks, CJ Gunn and Payton Sparks combined to go 3-of-13. Reneau was in foul trouble and scored just six points. If it wasn’t for a massive night for Anthony Walker off the bench (18 points, 7-of-11) and a solid follow-up performance for Trey Galloway (14 points, 6-of-12) after his career-high against Kansas, Morehead State could have won this one going away.

“I’ve been preaching all year you can be beaten by any team,” Mike Woodson said after the game. “Doesn’t matter who they are if you don’t come to play.”

Indiana almost learned that lesson the hard way tonight. Instead, it pulled off the win — barely.

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