Indiana men dig hole, lose to Northwestern


BLOOMINGTON The Indiana University fan primer is one erratic basketball manual.

Falling to Northwestern 76-72 Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers incorporated just about all of the good habits and bad habits of the 2023-24 season.

IU showed flashes of style that entertained, alternating with horrific moments that left spectators in anguish. The Hoosiers teased and disappointed, thrilled and boggled the mind. They pleased and frustrated.

Which is why the Hoosiers are 14-11 and should be more concerned about finishing at .500 than being a candidate for the NCAA tournament.

Despite battling injuries, the Wildcats, at 18-8, are having a better Big Ten season than the Hoosiers, even if fans always believe IU should best Northwestern.

Indiana had an unusual eight-day break without a game, but rather than appear rested and recovered from the grind, over the long haul of 40 minutes, the Hoosiers were guilty of the same flaws poor three-point shooting and poor foul shooting all season.

“I thought early on when the game started, we got good looks based on how they doubleteamed the ball,” IU coach Mike Woodson said. “Just didn’t make shots early.”

Indiana is one of the weakest shooting three-point teams in the nation, and the free throw shooting isn’t much better. Going 12-for-21 from the line isn’t going to cut it, especially when the opponent is making 78.6%.

IU trailed for the last 10 minutes of the first half, including by 34-26 at intermission, but the Hoosiers scored seven straight to trail by a point at the beginning of the second half and never got closer or ahead.

Inconsistency has plagued Indiana all season, and the latest printing of a Webster’s dictionary features the IU team picture as a visual aid next to that word. There may not be an I in team, but there definitely is an I in inconsistency.

Forward Malik Renau, who has been one of the squad’s mainstays all season, had a rough game. He fouled out with nine points in 24 minutes. The worst part was how he fouled out.

As soon as Reneau picked up his second foul, he picked up his third 29 seconds later in the first half. Similarly, with 6:30 to play, Reneau was whistled for his fourth foul, and then seven seconds later, he was out of the game with his fifth.

Woodson disliked this sequence of events at all.

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

Northwestern made its free throws (11 of its last 13 points) and ran its offense smoothly with Ryan Langborg (26 points) and Matt Nicholson (14 points, 16 rebounds), making up for long sitting by star guard Boo Buie (14 points) because of early foul trouble.

With just under 6:20 left, IU was behind by a deflating 63-47. Then, unexpectedly, the Hoosiers revved the engine and ran off 11 straight points. It was a game again.

Over the final couple of minutes, defensively, IU fouled the Wildcats, and offensively, Indiana fed 7-foot center Ke’lel Ware down low, who slammed in repeated dunks in his overall 22-point, 16-rebound performance. Occasionally, in between, Mackenzie Magbako (20 points) made outside shots. The comeback was orchestrated by Trey Galloway, who not only pointed out where players should set up on offense but then got them the ball, accumulating 12 assists.

IU would inch within four points and Northwestern would make free throws and the clock ticked off a few more seconds as fans danced and shouted, knowing how unlikely a comeback was.

“I feel like we lacked it (energy) a little bit, but we dug ourselves too deep of a hole in the second half to come back, which we tried to do,” Ware said.

Perhaps if the Hoosiers made more of their foul shots, the game would have stayed closer earlier. This was the seventh time IU shot less than 60% from the foul line in a game.

“Yeah, 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,” said freshman guard Gabe Cupps, who is still filling in for Xavier Johnson and his injured elbow. “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.”

Nebraska is next on the schedule to play the Indiana men’s team Wednesday night, but no one, least of all Woodson, knows which version of the Hoosiers will attend, the teasers or the thrillers.

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