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Indiana men’s basketball beats Army 72-64: Three things we learned

Another scary game!

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Another uncomfortable one! With under five minutes to play, Indiana was tied with the no. 338 team in KenPom. Indiana finally woke up and put the game away with just under a minute left to play.

As with the last game, we saw a larger rotation than we will against substantial competition. Ten players saw significant minutes, including a full second unit of five bench players playing together for a long period of the first half.

Again, I am going to refuse to panic here. There are a lot of unknowns with this team and Mike Woodson wants to see guys work through things in real games. I would like to stop seeing the full second unit, though.

A win is a win, however ugly it may be. It’s early in the season and the most important thing is to avoid losing consecutive games to teams outside of the top 75 in KenPom.

Here’s Three Things We Learned:

Xavier Johnson

Indiana would have been trailing at halftime had it not been for Xavier Johnson. He had 15 of Indiana’s 32 points in the first half and appeared to be the only player fully awake for the first 20 minutes of the game.

He finished with 19 points and five assists, the only Hoosier to make more than one 3-pointer today. He also went a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line, helping Indiana to a much improved 18-22 at the charity stripe.

As one of the team captains, he is leading by example. Without Johnson in the game, Indiana was completely out of sorts on both ends of the floor.

The Hoosiers are going to need his energy to get through the early part of the season while the lineups and rotations get sorted out. I can’t imagine we will see extended stretches of him on the bench again, whether it’s a two or three guard lineup.

Things got scary for a bit when he went down with an apparent leg injury, but he checked back in a few minutes later and immediately forced a jump ball late in the shot clock that led to a turnover for Army.

Indiana is going to need him to keep playing like this while the coaching staff figures out what it’s got and who works with who.

Kel’el Ware

Ware got off to a slow start, scoring just four points in the first half on a couple of dunks. Then he went off in the second half. At one point, Ware had 11-straight points for Indiana, finally giving the Hoosiers a more comfortable lead with about ten minutes to play.

As with Xavier Johnson, Indiana struggled when he was on the bench this game. He bailed out the offense on a lot of slow possessions with his ability to play above the rim and catch lobs from anywhere on the floor.

I would have liked to see him take a 3-pointer or two, but Indiana needed points and he opted for a lot of dunks - a higher percentage shot (never mind that he almost missed one). He did show a nice shooting touch on some midrange shots, which is a good sign for games when he won’t have a physical advantage in the paint.

His 20 points tonight led the team and he was second on the team in rebounding with 6. Alongside Johnson, Ware is emerging as somebody Indiana can count on in the early goings of the season.

Everyone Else

This was not the strongest game for Indiana’s bench. The roughest stretch of the game by far came when the entire starting lineup sat for an extended period in the first half and Army got out to its biggest lead of the game.

Some of the starters struggled too. Every starter had at least two turnovers. Malik Reneau made up for it with 14 points and a team-high 7 rebounds along with three blocks, but those weren’t the performances you’d want from Trey Galloway and Mackenzie Mgbako.

Gabe Cupps looked like a freshman again, though he did hit a big 3-pointer late in the game to extend Indiana’s lead. He’s not afraid of the moment, the shots just weren’t falling for him tonight.

As with last game, Indiana went with the three guard lineup when it needed to close out the game. Mgbako has looked a little lost on defense and not fully comfortable on offense compared to the exhibition games, so it isn’t surprising that Woodson is going with the steadier guys.

It may be asking a lot for things to fully click for Indiana by the time it sees UConn next Sunday, but it’s clear that there are some real pieces here and a senior point guard who can guide them through rough patches.

By the end of the season, I expect this group to be firing on all cylinders.