Indiana loses fourth straight game, falling 83-74 at Penn State

  • 02/24/2024 3:43 pm in

Forty minutes. That was all Indiana needed Saturday afternoon — forty minutes of competitive, energetic basketball.

Would a win have been nice? Of course. But it felt like the Hoosiers might have needed a complete game even more than a win for no other reason than to prove to themselves and everyone else that they could do it.

Indiana couldn’t even put together one good 20-minute half. As a result, the Hoosiers lost their fourth straight game, falling to Penn State 83-74. The loss marked the first time Penn State has swept Indiana in the regular season since the 2008-09 season.

“I’m upset with the way we played, the way I’ve coached this team this whole season,” Mike Woodson said postgame.

The Hoosiers now sit at 14-13 overall and 6-10 in conference play and are tied for 12th in conference standings.

It’s not necessarily that Indiana didn’t fight; Malik Reneau played 35 minutes and scored a game-high 27 points, and Indiana cut Penn State’s lead to one possession multiple times in the second half. The two teams even traded the lead back and forth in the first half.

But there wasn’t enough fight or enough good basketball to carry Indiana through.

“We just didn’t make plays coming down the stretch of the first half to keep us right there,” Woodson said. “But that wasn’t the difference in the game. I thought we battled. I look at the stat sheet, look at the free throws and the missed opportunities to make 3s, I thought that was the difference.”

Indiana shot 14-of-25 from the free throw line and 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. Penn State made nine 3-pointers and 26 of its 30 free throws, outscoring Indiana 53-20 in those two categories alone.

While the Hoosiers had good looks throughout the game, their first 3-pointer didn’t come until 1:35 remaining in the second half. The second came with three seconds left. By then, it was too little and far too late. Those 3-pointers could have made a difference earlier in the half when Indiana trailed by three and had the opportunity to tie. But in those moments, the Hoosiers didn’t even try to set up a play on the perimeter. No one seemed confident enough to take a chance.

“We’re getting good looks,” Woodson said. “We’re getting a lot of good looks. I just think from a mental standpoint I’ve got to get them to where they’re comfortable just making them.”

That lack of confidence spread to the free throw line as well. Indiana went 9-of-12 from the stripe in the first half, building up some optimism that Indiana might capitalize on its residency at the line this time. Then, the Hoosiers only made five of their 13 attempts in the second half.

It’s something that’s been a concern for Indiana throughout the season. Time and time again, the Hoosiers have been in positions to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes or seize momentum after big plays, and they haven’t been able to do it.

“It’s very difficult as a team, knowing we’ve got the talent and the players to do it,” Reneau said. “But when stuff doesn’t go right, we let games slip by and it’s just hard to overcome, when you let so many games slip by, and a season slowly just pass by you, realizing you’ve got four games left. It’s just hard to fight back from that.”

Penn State struggled when Kel’el Ware was in the game, wary of his presence around the basket. But he got called for two unnecessary fouls in the first three minutes of the second half, putting him at four fouls and sending him to the bench. Reneau tried his best to keep Indiana in the game, but Penn State didn’t have Ware to contend with inside anymore. They capitalized.

Similarly, Mackenzie Mgbako posed a physical threat to the Nittany Lions simply because of his build and the fact that he averaged almost 12 points per game. He took himself out of the game — literally — when he committed two fouls in the first five minutes of the game and was auto-benched by Woodson for the rest of the first half.

Comparatively, Penn State’s Ace Baldwin Jr. was called for his second foul with seven minutes to go in the first half and remained in the game. He scored 10 points to put the Nittany Lions up by seven heading into the half.

Mgbako played all 20 minutes of the second half and finished with seven points, but his absence in the first half elicited questions about what he could have done if he was on the floor. On the other hand, Baldwin played for all 40 minutes and scored a team-high 23 points. There were no questions about his impact on the game.

Realistically, Mgbako likely would not have changed the game all on his own. He struggled in his own right, as did everyone else. The fact of the matter is that no one was able to play a clean game for an extended period and that is ultimately why Indiana lost.

“I’ve struggled with this team this year,” Woodson said, blaming himself. “I won’t blame my players. I will always put it on Mike Woodson.”

Indiana’s next game is back in Bloomington against Wisconsin. The Tuesday night matchup is one of Indiana’s final two home games and will once again be a test as to whether or not the Hoosiers can play a complete game. They will have to if they want to win.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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