Five takeaways from Indiana’s win against Penn State

  • 03/15/2024 12:42 am in

Indiana advanced to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals with a 61-59 win against Penn State on Thursday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The victory improved the Hoosiers to 19-13 overall.

Here are five takeaways from the win against the Nittany Lions:

Indiana’s defensive turnaround was the difference

After a pair of embarrassing efforts in the first two meetings against Penn State, Indiana completely turned around its defense in Thursday’s contest against Penn State.

The Hoosiers held the Nittany Lions to 59 points after surrendering an average of 84 in two regular-season matchups.

Penn State never looked comfortable in the halfcourt as Kel’el Ware challenged shots at the rim and the Hoosiers closed out with purpose against shooters.

“The first two times we played Penn State we dropped, and they just dissected everything that we did,” Mike Woodson said. “The second time we played them, we tried to trap, and they made threes. They made nine threes in one game and 12 in the next game.

“So we just tried to stay as close to (Ace) Baldwin as we could. Our bigs were more up, where he actually saw bodies, and we tried to play in to get out. We guarded the three-point line extremely well. They shot it well last night, and tonight we were really good in guarding it.”

The Nittany Lions shot a dismal 29 percent on 2s and 25.9 percent on 3s at the Target Center.

Ace Baldwin Jr., who dominated the first two games, was held to nine points on 3-for-15 shooting from the field. Baldwin Jr. missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

Zach Hicks, another star from the first two meetings between the teams, was held to just 11 points in 32 minutes.

Anthony Leal with another game-winner

With Trey Galloway sidelined due to a knee injury, Mike Woodson went to senior Anthony Leal for 24 minutes.

Leal delivered on both ends of the floor. Defensively, the Bloomington native was a pest and held his own against the Nittany Lions backcourt.

He also had an offensive impact, hitting a 3-pointer in the first half and making three of his four free throws in the second half.

But Leal’s biggest bucket came in the closing seconds of the game.

Out of Indiana’s final timeout and with the game tied at 59, the Hoosiers went to Malik Reneau. But Reneau’s runner in the lane missed. But the opportunistic Leal was there for the tip-in, giving Indiana a two-point lead and the victory.

It was Leal’s second game-winner of the season. Last month, his late 3-pointer from the corner sunk Ohio State in Columbus.

Kel’el Ware’s incredible run continues

Indiana sophomore big man Kel’el Ware has established himself as one of the Big Ten’s elite frontcourt players in his first, and likely only, season in Bloomington.

On Thursday, Ware again showcased his ability to impact the game on both ends.

The 7-footer stifled Penn State in the paint and his presence was a significant factor in the Nittany Lions shooting just 7-for-24 on dunks and layups. His counterpart at center, Qudus Wahab, went 0-for-8 from the field and fouled out in 29 minutes.

Ware also dominated the glass, finishing with a game-high 14 rebounds. Four of those came on the offensive glass.

He led all scorers with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting and a 4-for-6 mark from the free throw line.

Indiana’s freshmen made major contributions

The Hoosiers got some key contributions from their two freshmen in Thursday’s win.

Mackenzie Mgbako provided a major scoring punch in the first half, scoring 10 of his 11 points before intermission. Mgbako was 4-for-9 from the field in 19 first-half minutes and made both of his free throws.

Gabe Cupps, who has often been invisible offensively this season, made a pair of timely perimeter shots.

Cupps nailed a 3-pointer in the first half to give Indiana a 13-10 lead with 11:22 left in the first half. And in the second half, Cupps hit a 3-pointer that capped a 7-o run to give the Hoosiers a 43-42 cushion with 12:31 to play.

The freshman from Centerville, Ohio, also handled the Penn State pressure all evening. Cupps played 27 minutes and didn’t commit a turnover.

The presence of Xavier Johnson “changes our team”

With Trey Galloway sidelined, Xavier Johnson was back in the starting lineup.

And Indiana needed every minute and contribution it got from Johnson to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal against Nebraska.

While Woodson said postgame that Johnson isn’t “fully there” because he hasn’t played a lot this season, his presence is a difference-maker for the Hoosiers. Indiana is now 5-0 since Johnson returned for the Wisconsin game on February 27.

“Hell, we played him 37 minutes tonight,” Woodson said. “And I just think his presence on the floor changes our team.”

Johnson’s final line wasn’t eye-catching. He finished with four points, six rebounds, five assists, a blocked shot, and three turnovers.

However, his ability to play with pace and his tenacity defensively provide a solid boost for the Hoosiers.

“He’s ultra-competitive,” Leal said of Johnson. “He continues to add to our team’s competitiveness because he hates losing more than anything. I think that’s a really great feature of him.”

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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