Indiana men’s hoops still can’t figure things out


BLOOMINGTON— Watching the Indiana men’s basketball game Wednesday night was much like eyeing the collapse of the stock market when your kid’s college fund is riding on it.

These days, observers don’t go around saying, “What’s wrong with the Hoosiers?” It’s more like, “What isn’t wrong?”

Indiana was thoroughly schooled by Nebraska 85-70 at Assembly Hall in a Big Ten Conference game, the same Nebraska that whipped the Hoosiers 86-70 in Lincoln on Jan. 3, the same Nebraska that had been 0-7 on the road in league play this season.

This followed Sunday’s 76-72 home defeat by Northwestern.

IU didn’t even look good losing that close one since the Hoosiers broke out an ugly sartorial appearance, debuting black uniform jerseys with red numerals. They got a negative fashion review for that, and as if coach Mike Woodson did not have enough headaches, he said it was not his idea but Adidas’ fault. Most likely, the clothing was going up in a bonfire to stay warm the rest of the winter.

That is if Nebraska’s hot shooting did not sufficiently torch the Hoosiers. The Cornhuskers (19-8) made 14 three-pointers overall to blitz IU, while along the way building a 51-31 halftime lead that was too much to overcome.

If fans routinely boo the announcement of the visiting team introductions and always somewhat ridiculously boo the announcement alcohol sales will cease with 10 minutes remaining in the game, it was more startling to realize the crowd also booed the home players. In Bloomington? Inside Assembly Hall? You know it was not a pretty show.

“I mean, it’s part of it,” said senior guard Trey Galloway. “I can’t worry about that. (We) can’t worry about the outside noise.”

Worries abound for the 14-12 Hoosiers. They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NCAA and went 4-for-21 against Nebraska. They missed 10 free throws, also a recurring foible. And they could not defend the four Cornhuskers who scored in double figures, led by guard Keisei Tominaga’s 20 points and whose step-back threes befuddled the Hoosiers.

“They were comfortable and made a lot of shots, and it affected us and they got that lead,” a subdued Galloway analyzed.

Despite digging the equivalent of a coal-mine hole early, the Hoosiers rallied to within 59-56 in the second half before yielding to a Nebraska run that put the result out of reach almost as swiftly as the lead had evaporated.

That has been a maddening aspect of Hoosier play this season. At their finest, they appear capable of beating most teams but do not sustain their excellence.

They seem a disjointed group. That is partially because of the loss of point guard Xavier Johnson to two injuries, forcing an excessive reliance on Galloway at the point and freshman Gabe Cupps as a starter, who is clearly not ready for the responsibility.

Freshman Mackenzie Mgbako, who scored 22 points against Nebraska, a career high, has demonstrated after a shaky start that he is ready.

“Just playing more through the offense and taking what the defense gives me and being aggressive so I can help out the team,” Mgbako said of his improvement. “I think driving the basketball and then creating and driving and getting to the cup.”

Sophomore 7-foot center Ke’lel Ware, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds, has always been ready and can’t be covered by many defenses. Opponents have found that is true about forward Malik Reneau, too, who Wednesday had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists. They represent the good news.

Yet Woodson has made it obvious he doesn’t trust too many other guys in too many situations and leaves them on the bench. He sounded very much like a coach still searching for answers.

“When you give up 51 points in the Big 10 in a half, you’re not going to beat anybody,” Woodson said. “Yeah, we played great the second half to get back in it to cut it to three, but we had no defensive effort I thought the first half. We played well enough this year in spurts but not well enough to complete ballgames. That’s what makes it frustrating.”

Frustrating is a mild word to describe Hoosier emotions.

“Well, they’re down a little bit,” Woodson said. “You expect to be down. The only way you come out of a rut, come out of a situation that we’re in, you’ve got work your way through it.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for Indiana basketball. They’re not. My locker room is down. As a coach, I’ve got to keep pumping them up and see if I can get them to overcome being down and get us back into winning ways.”

In a hurry.

No posts to display