The Minute After: Kennesaw State

  • 12/29/2023 9:13 pm in

Thoughts on a 100-87 win against the Owls:

Kennesaw State wasted no time imposing its style on this game. Entering it with the fastest tempo in the nation and the second-fastest possession length, the ball seemed to change hands between the Owls and Hoosiers more like a tennis volley than a five-on-five basketball game. But Indiana was more than up for the challenge. Just like against North Alabama, the 3-balls were falling early. Mackenzie Mgbako went on a heater, hitting four straight in the first 6:40 of the game. Malik Reneau added one of his own at the 16:48 mark for five early baskets from deep.

After a CJ Gunn layup at the 7:44 mark, the Hoosiers bounced out to a 13-point lead (37-24). But it would be fleeting. Because as hot as Indiana was on offense, its defense suffered. The Hoosiers had trouble stopping the point of attack and Kennesaw State feasted on Indiana’s help defense, getting several open 3s of its own and connecting. By the time the dust settled on the first half, the Owls had dumped 9-of-18 (50 percent) from deep on Indiana. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, hadn’t made another one since the early hot start and finished the half 5-of-9. The 13-point lead dwindled to four (50-46) at the break with the Owls scoring 1.15 points per possession.

Things got more precarious in the second half. As Kennesaw State kept breaking down Indiana’s defense, mainly thanks to the penetration and craftiness of ¬†Terrell Burden (20 points, nine assists), IU’s lead was all of a sudden gone. A 3-pointer — what else? — from Burden with 13:16 to go put the Owls up four at 68-64. After the make, Anthony Leal checked into the game. All of a sudden, things felt more steady as Leal calmed things down on both ends.

“He gave us a hell of a spark when he came in,” Mike Woodson said after the game. “From a defensive standpoint, he gave us a lot of things we didn’t do early.”

Leal never came out of the game the rest of the way and finished a team-high +17 as Indiana ripped off a 36-19 run to finish the game and win by 13. It was a late-game run a bit reminiscent of the one the Hoosiers posted against Morehead State to secure the victory in a game that looked even more dicey than this one.

Payton Sparks, who was subbed out just before Leal entered the game and was playing well up until then (10 points, eight rebounds, four blocks), also never returned as Woodson went a little smaller down the stretch. It helped better contain Kennesaw State’s smaller lineup and allowed Indiana to switch 1 through 5 with Malik Reaneau playing center. While Leal and a different defensive lineup helped Indiana close this one out, the Hoosiers still allowed 1.07 points per possession and 87 points to the Owls. And the 17 3-pointers Kennesaw State dropped on Indiana were the second-most of the Woodson era, runner-up to Penn State’s 18 last season on Jan. 11.

On offense, Reneau continues to shine. After a career-high 25 points against North Alabama last time out, he did it again and then some. The sophomore scored a new career-high of 34 points on 13-of-19 shooting and helped buoy the offense during the game’s winning stretch late. He scored 16 of his points in the last 12:04 of the contest. And on a night it scored 100 points, Indiana had several other players in double figures. Mgbako (14 points), Trey Galloway (14 points), Kaleb Banks (12 points), Anthony Walker (10 points) and the aforementioned Sparks (10 points) all made the cut.

While Indiana managed to get to the new year at 10-3, the way it played in both wins and losses — often barely scraping by against much lesser foes and getting blown out by the likes of UConn and Auburn — has made it no friend of the advanced metrics and efficiency margins. Indiana sits at just No. 86 on KenPom.

The Hoosiers have work to do as Big Ten play resumes. Can they do enough for their resumé in Big Ten play in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament committee?

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