Yesterday, I took my first trip to Welsh Ryan arena to see what was advertised as a Big Ten men’s basketball game between Northwestern and Indiana. Instead, I saw a lot of missed free throws, wrestling in the paint, and a walk-on playing important minutes for the Hoosiers in the first half. By the end of it, the referees declared Northwestern had won by a score of 59-51, dropping the Hoosiers to 16-7 overall and 7-6 within conference play.
Here’s three things:
Indiana was without Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Khristian Lander, Michael Durr, and Tamar Bates yesterday due to an apparent violation of team rules. “I’m not giving you all the ins and outs of things but they broke rules and were punished for it,” Mike Woodson said in the postgame press conference. Despite being severely short-handed, Indiana fought hard and built a small lead until coach Kenya Hunter was assessed a technical foul in the second half, sending Northwestern to the line to take a lead that they would never give up.
Given Indiana’s precarious NCAA tournament hopes, the decision to bench five players for a winnable Big Ten road game has raised a lot of eyebrows among Indiana fans and media.
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While it’s tempting to think that Indiana would have easily won that game had everyone been available, it bears remembering that this is a Northwestern team that won in East Lansing this season and was favored coming into Tuesday’s game even before the suspensions were announced. Weird things happen when Indiana plays Northwestern, so it’s best not to assume that Woodson’s decision alone cost Indiana the game.
Like it or not, Indiana’s tournament drought is not Mike Woodson’s responsibility. Of course the goal is for the program to return to national prominence, but Woodson is trying to establish a winning culture and win his way. He should not have to compromise on his rules or coaching style because Fred Glass hired Archie Miller and extended a tournament drought that Tom Crean started in 2016.
Indiana made just 53.8% of its free throws, 25% of its three point attempts, and 37% of its field goals Tuesday night and somehow only lost by eight points. The Wildcats hit some timely shots in the second half, but still shot just 18.5% (5 of 27) from deep and 31.4% from the field. This game was not a defensive showcase either; both teams were missing wide open shots all night long. Boo Buie and Chase Audige were the only players in the whole game to make more than one three pointer each and it took a combined fifteen attempts.
Not all of this can be attributed to bench players getting extended minutes. Miller Kopp, a starter even when Indiana is at full force, went one for five from deep in what could have been his revenge game against his former team. Trayce Jackson-Davis going five of nine from the free throw line really only incentivizes the “Hack-a-shaq” approach to defending him when nobody else on Indiana can find a way to score.
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Shorthanded or not, Indiana will have to find more ways to score if it wants to move safely off of the tournament bubble any time soon.
Trey Galloway is tough
The only bright spot in Indiana’s Tuesday night loss was a truly gutsy performance from Trey Galloway, who had a career-high 13 points in 37 minutes at the point guard position. Galloway likely would have played the entire game had he not fouled out since he was the only active player with any ball handling experience in the lineup. He did turn the ball over five times, but a lot of those came from trying to push a break or initiate something when the rest of the offense got stagnant.
Though I sincerely hope we never see Galloway play point guard again, his effort last night kept the game close for far longer than it should have been and deserves recognition.
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