When Mackenzie Holmes took the court at Assembly Hall for tipoff, she was forced to glance downward.
Matching up with the 6-3 Holmes was a guard standing at 5-9. The tone for the day was immediately set: just how many points would Holmes, averaging over 20 points per game, score on such a small lineup?
The speculation only grew when Morehead State was forced to foul Holmes to keep her away from the rim in the first few possessions of the matchup. The answer ended up being just 12, good for third on the team.
But It’s not like she was disappointed, what with her leaping to her feet from the bench anytime one of her co-stars added onto what ended up being a 87-24 victory. Every Hoosier who dressed for the game played a part in that total with the exception of Henna Sandvik, though not for lack of trying.
“We tried like crazy to get Henna some shots there at the end because we want everybody to score,” head coach Teri Moren said in a postgame press conference.
Moren has emphasized her players’ willingness to pass up good shots for great ones throughout her time coaching the Hoosiers for a variety of reasons. The first being bolstering the team’s chemistry and the second being to put on a show for fans.
Indiana can’t play above the rim and the coaching staff knows they have to put on a show to get fans in the stands, Moren said. In order to play “pretty basketball,” Indiana emphasizes distribution in practices.
It all comes back to the players on the court.
“You have to have willing people, players in your program that are willing to do that,” Moren said.
That emphasis is evident throughout the box score. None of the Hoosiers truly broke out and all but two recorded at least one assist on the night. Beyond the box score, you see it in Alyssa Geary crashing into the interior but finding Chloe Moore-McNeil at the top of the key. In defenders closing in on homes as spots on the perimeter tear open for Sara Scalia and Yarden Garzon.
But most of all, you see it on Indiana’s bench, which transforms into a spirit machine whenever any Hoosier scores. The bench is at the edge of their seats on offense, feet to the ground just ready to leap at a made shot or a defensive stop.
Indiana’s identity isn’t just sharing the ball on offense, it’s keeping it away from the rim on defense.
The Hoosiers never let up on the other end despite a lead that went from ten points to over sixty before the game was over. They kept communicating, went after the ball with tenacity and didn’t surrender any easy shots.
Defense is the most difficult aspect of the transition to college basketball for younger players, Moren said. That’s especially true for Indiana, which goes into every game with a highly specific, different strategy on defense with an emphasis on the scouting report. That’s ultimately how players get minutes, and it’s true for Indiana’s freshmen like Lilly Meister.
When she replaced Holmes, nothing was getting past Meister. If Morehead State was using motion to generate an open look, Meister was either calling it out within seconds or on the shooter herself, forcing a bad shot with a closeout and holding down the perimeter while clinging to the interior.
Off the court, Meister texts associate head coach Rhet Wierzba every day to get some extra work in before practice.
“She’s talented, she just needs some experience,” Moren said. “She’s a great kid, a great learner and I feel like she’s just going to continue to get better.”
When Indiana is clicking, the Hoosiers aren’t beating teams in just one area. They’re finding open looks on one end and playing with intensity on the other to take control of games early and often.