Indiana relies on its depth in opening victory over Morehead State

BLOOMINGTON — As a way of announcing just how many good players he thinks the Indiana University men’s basketball team features this season, senior forward Race Thompson declared the Hoosiers really have 10, 11, even 12 starters.

If that was literally true, then it was a simple explanation for how IU overwhelmed Morehead State 88-53 on Monday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in the season opener.

On a night when 14 Hoosiers did get into the game, which was played with the usual five-on-five starters, it was only metaphorically true. But what Thompson was getting at was on display: The 2022-23 team seems to have roughly the same 120 million parts available as E-bay Motors touts in those radio commercials.

Much is expected of IU in coach Mike Woodson’s second season back at his alma mater, and the longtime NBA player and coach has assembled a roster that should not disappoint. Indiana was ranked No. 13 nationally in The Associated Press preseason poll, so many have noticed.

This was the sixth time Indiana and Morehead State of Kentucky met, and Indiana is 6-0. Indiana also is 26-0 all-time against Ohio Valley Conference teams, so if the Hoosiers want to switch from the Big Ten, they could become the instant league bully.

Senior Trayce Jackson-Davis and freshman Malik Reneau each scored 15 points for IU, Jordan Geronimo 10 and Thompson nine. Woodson sprinkled the minutes around so generously for a short time in the first half, the Eagles made spirited runs, briefly taking the lead at 17-16 and tying things at 21.

Then came the avalanche of points. Thompson and Jackson-Davis connected on instinctive passes down low, resulting in Trayce jams and Race jams at the hoop, and the lead mushroomed.

Perhaps ignited by the preseason optimism, fans were in midseason form, competing with jet engines for decibel-level cheering and picking out one player on the opposing team to boo and harangue. Good practice for league play.

Thompson was only on the floor for 17 minutes and wasn’t needed more.

“As a team, I feel like, and we feel like, we have 10 starters, 11 starters, 12 starters, so when the second group comes in, there should be no drop-off,” Thompson said.

Not every game will be settled by a 35-point comfort margin, but evaluation of the roster and of Thompson’s observation indicate IU practices behind closed doors could involve clawing for playing time.

Jackson-Davis, Thompson, Geronimo, Miller Kopp, Xavier Johnson, Tamar Bates and Trey Galloway all played significant roles for last season’s 21-14 team that was invited into the NCAA tournament. Woodson brought in touted freshmen, including Reneau, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn.

“We are deeper this season than we were last season,” Woodson said. “Again, everybody was new last year. I was new. Those guys last year were trying to figure me out, and the guys that came back kind of know who I am now. We’re longer, more athletic than we were last season.”

The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Reneau from Miami has the immediate makings of a star. He may have been in the second group of “starters” but showed he is likely to be an impact player. Hood-Schifino from Pittsburgh, who is 6-6, made a good first impression starting in the backcourt.

“He has been solid ever since he put on the uniform,” Woodson said of Reneau. “It’s kind of nice to see, man. I told you, the freshmen, him and Jalen, don’t play like freshmen. They act like they belong.”

At times, Hoosiers passing was like poetry. Players ran the court well and shot 61% from the floor, befitting a squad that scored big on layups and dunks. IU didn’t bother much with three-point attempts but made four. It was Morehead, trying to slash deficits, heaving up 3s with regularity, though making just 9 of 30 from the field.

One statistic that annoyed Woodson, as it would any coach, was hitting just 12 of 21 free throw attempts, or 57.1%. Woodson might well have been planning to keep the players after school to practice foul-shooting drills before competing again Thursday night against Bethune-Cookman.

Yet the Hoosiers’ opening on Broadway versus Morehead State produced initial critics reviews that were basically all positive.