Indiana’s recurring problems exposed by Northwestern in 76-72 loss

  • 02/18/2024 7:23 pm in

Northwestern, which used to be a routine win in Bloomington, has become a nightmare for Indiana.

In his three seasons as IU’s coach, Mike Woodson still has not beaten the Wildcats — who left Assembly Hall Sunday with a 76-72 road win.

The Hoosiers, coming off eight days between games, showed again why they’re far off postseason tournament bubbles. Indiana only led for 1:33 against Northwestern.

Indiana started the second half strong, and with a chance to tie or take the lead, Malik Reneau had an early possession post up on the right block. Mackenzie Mgbako, who hit a 3-pointer the possession before, trailed him on the arc, but instead of kicking it out when the double team came, Reneau turned it over. Northwestern’s Ryan Langborg, who tied his career-high with 26 points, knocked down a 3-pointer on the next possession.

“We never recovered from that point on,” Woodson said postgame. “I thought if that pass had it been made and Mack gets another look, there is a chance we go up one. But I thought of the biggest play along with not making free throws.”

Reneau fouled out for the second game in a row, finishing with nine points, five rebounds and four turnovers in 24 minutes. The sophomore fouled out with 6:23 to play.

“I wasn’t happy with him after the game,” Woodson added.

To make matters worse, Indiana, who has been abysmal from the foul line all season, shot 12-for-21 (57 percent) from the charity stripe. Coming into Sunday, the Hoosiers were second to last in the Big Ten — only ahead of Rutgers — in free throw percentage, shooting 66.4 percent for the year. Indiana attempts the third most free throws a game in the conference.

“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice because the coaches and we obviously see that that’s something that we can get better at,” freshman point guard Gabe Cupps said. “So I think it just all comes down to confidence and just the mentality approaching the line with. I think it’s much more mental than physical.”

The Hoosiers’ lack of mental fortitude is concerning at this stage in the season. Indiana’s body language has been poor the whole year, with many palms facing the sky and heads in hands. Calbert Cheaney sat on the bench with his hand covering his face for an entire Northwestern possession after Reneau committed a silly foul.

IU’s lack of focus and mental makeup showed on the floor as they turned the ball over eight times in the first half, whereas Northwestern turned it over three times in the whole game. A lot of Indiana’s turnovers were self-inflicted and avoidable. Trey Galloway had the ball graze off his fingers and kicked it out of bounds on a long rebound attempt and Kel’el Ware was called for a carry almost 30 feet away from the basket. Those are mistakes Indiana doesn’t have a margin of error for. The Wildcats scored 11 points off Indiana’s 11 giveaways.

The Hoosiers even shot a better percentage than Northwestern. IU finished the game at 51 percent and Northwestern at 35 percent, but the Wildcats attempted 12 more shots, scoring 12 points on 14 offensive rebounds.

Northwestern earned its offensive rebounds. Several times, Northwestern players hit the floor diving after loose balls and Indiana stood and watched.

“I thought the 50/50 balls they beat us to tonight,” Woodson said.

This story has been written before. Indiana is spiraling out of control and little can be done to save the season from crashing and burning. Assembly Hall felt sleepy and apathetic on Sunday afternoon. The frustration felt in early winter has turned into reflection and disdain for how the product on the floor got to this point.

Some fans stayed in their seats with perplexed expressions as the two teams exited the floor. Maybe it was to wait for some traffic to clear out, but it felt like a realization that the season was all but over.

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