In the second to last non-conference game for Indiana in the 2023-24 season, something finally clicked. The ball moved faster, there were fewer turnovers, and the shots went in.
The Hoosiers hit 12 3-pointers to set the single game record for makes during the Mike Woodson era. This comes on the heels of their narrow win over Morehead State, in which they only shot 16 3-pointers all game.
If Woodson cared about analytics, he could have easily left the starters in to go for the first 20-point win on the year. But an injury is the worst thing that can happen in a game like this, with a loss being the second. There’s no reason to risk it with the game in the bag.
Tonight’s performance was probably closer to fans’ expectations following the close loss to Kansas and was the first time all year that Indiana got a lead big enough that Woodson didn’t have to close the game with the starters.
Most importantly, it was a step in the right direction.
Here’s Three Things we learned:
The stats speak for themselves. 12-24 from deep with makes from seven different players. Nine players took at least one 3-point attempt.
These weren’t forced shots, either. On the second possession of the game, the ball went in to Kel’el Ware who was immediately doubled before he kicked it out to Mackenzie Mgbako for the first made three of the game.
It’s no coincidence that Indiana’s shooting performance came on a night where it also had 25 assists as a team. The zone briefly scared the bench in the first half, but by the second half both the first and second units were getting easy looks for twos and threes.
We probably won’t see another 4-4 3-point night from Malik Reneau, but we might (and hopefully will) see more games where multiple guys get hot from behind the arc. Gabe Cupps, Kaleb Banks, Trey Galloway, and Mgbako - who all hit threes tonight - were expected to be at least good shooters. Not to mention Xavier Johnson.
It’s a small sample size, but a few more of these games will create a lot of space for Ware and Reneau to work inside.
Reneau had a career-high 25 points tonight, going perfect from deep and at the free throw line while also grabbing seven rebounds and tallying two assists in just 27 minutes. It was the game of his life and could change how opponents defend him from here on out.
Despite not being a full-blown 3-point threat at this stage in his career, Reneau’s jump shot has always looked good. His percentage entering this game wasn’t great, but it also doesn’t count his 2-3 night in the first exhibition game.
So long as his defender has to respect him around the perimeter, Ware will have more space to create for himself and others inside. Ware can also be a deep threat and I was glad to see him get an attempt off, even if it didn’t fall.
With tonight’s stats accounted for, Reneau is now a 46.7% 3-point shooter on the year. If he can stay at around even something like 33% for the year, the offense could look different in a hurry.
As with the Morehead State game, Woodson went back to the deeper bench, playing 10 players tonight, nine for 10 minutes or more. It may not be sustainable against high level competition, but it’s nice to be able to do it during stretches of the season like this.
This is the Scariest part of the season. The chances for big wins are gone. Holiday break is coming up. Students aren’t filling Assembly Hall.
Had the bench mailed it in tonight, things could have gotten ugly again. Instead, it put up 25 points behind another strong performance from Anthony Walker, who had 11. Anthony Leal hit a three, his first field goal in over a calendar year.
I maintain that I don’t want to see them seeing huge minutes going forward, but it is good to see the roster deep enough that Woodson can rest the starters after three games in five days. It also helps avoid injury if they can build a big lead again.
Overall, you have to like the effort from just about all 10 guys who played tonight, a good sign for Indiana’s depth as it gears up for the Big Ten.