IU men’s hoops survive opener on special night in Assembly Hall



BLOOMINGTON — When there were about 10 ½ minutes remaining on the clock against Florida Gulf Coast at Assembly Hall Tuesday night, Indiana coach Mike Woodson had to be thinking, “Is it too late to call this an exhibition?”

Instead of the season opener, that is. Instead of a real game that would go on the record, unlike two previous exhibitions. The Hoosiers trailed by six points and looked disjointed. Then Woodson called a timeout, and in the huddle possibly threatened the lives of his young players.

They responded with a run of 14-0 and 19-2 and salvaged the evening with a 69-63 victory. That might hold up as the timeout of the season for the 1-0 Hoosiers. Up until then, the game had all of the ingredients of one of those NCAA-tournament first-round upsets where the big-name favorites go down to a who-are-they foe.

“I had no choice, but to call a timeout,” Woodson said of the seeming brilliant timeliness of his call for a pause.

There are only a handful of returning players from last year’s 23-12 club and this team is very much a work in progress in terms of meshing the parts. Although they had maintained a tiny lead most of the game, the Hoosiers looked sluggish against the Eagles, who were 17-15 last season.

Somehow, when Woodson snapped his fingers during this little break, the team quickly responding with better passing setting up Malik Reneau (15 points) inside and Trey Galloway (16 points) everywhere. Center Ke’lel Ware, the 7-foot sophomore transfer, scored 13 points, gathered 12 rebounds, made four assists and blocked three shots.

Senior guard Xavier Johnson also scored 14 points and at times the Hoosiers looked particularly sharp in a three-guard offense of Johnson, Galloway and freshman Gabe Cupps, something to watch for as the season progresses.

This sudden blossoming to life by the offense – sparked by the defense — electrified the crowd, which erupted with a level of noise about equal to a fleet of jets landing.

“But make no mistake,” Woodson said, “it was our defense coming down the stretch that got us back. The fans got into it and that was very helpful getting us on a roll. That was enough just to bring it home for us.”

One might have thought the run would be a stake in the heart, but IU reverted to sloppiness and the Eagles of the Atlantic Sun Conference, who hit 13 three-point shots, threatened all over again.

After Indiana spurted to an 11-point lead, Florida Gulf Coast (0-1) came back to within three points with the ball with 28 seconds to go. It was a circumstance of danger sufficient to provoke fans into biting their nails.

“Obviously, we’ve got to be better and not put ourselves in that position,” said Galloway of not falling behind, “but to be able to climb out of that and come out with a win was huge for us.”

This would not have been a good game to lose, on general principles, but also because it was the first game of a new season a week after famed past coach Bob Knight died at 83. And it was also a night when the Indiana program paid homage to pioneering Black player Bill Garrett, who helped integrate the team and the Big Ten.

Woodson played for Knight between 1976 and 1980 and after his death paid tribute in a statement.

“I am so blessed that he saw something in me as a basketball player,” said Woodson, who is from Indianapolis. “He influenced my life in ways I could never repay. As he did with all of his players, he always challenged me to get the most out of myself as a player and more importantly, as a person.”

This contest was also labeled “The Bill Garrett Game” as IU honored a young man from Shelbyville who helped integrate the Big Ten between 1948 and 1951 and became an All-American. Garrett passed away in 1974, but was represented at the Florida Gulf Coast game by relatives and friends as honorary captains.

They witnessed a growing-pains game, a flawed performance by IU marked by iffy defense at times and erratic free-throw shooting (19-for-30), though the Hoosiers did shoot 51.1 percent from the field.

Woodson wants to see improvement when IU next plays, Sunday, 7 p.m. at home against Army.

“I got a lot of work to do, put it that way,” Woodson said.

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