With the non-conference schedule coming and going without a resume win for the Hoosiers, No. 2 Purdue coming to Assembly Hall tonight was a huge opportunity.
Indiana blew it.
It’s hard to think of more things that could have gone wrong for Indiana out of the gate. Foul trouble for two of its three best scorers. Another bad game from the sixth year point guard. Missing open shots.
The first five minutes of the second half were a great example of what could have been had this group come out with the right energy and been given the chance by the officiating crew to participate in the game.
Of course, fouls aren’t enough to decide a game and Indiana did plenty of other things wrong to lose this game in a blowout. Mike Woodson retains a winning record against Matt Painter, but will have to make huge adjustments before they meet again to finish the year with that record intact.
Here’s three things we learned:
Mike Woodson made a big gamble this offseason in keeping Xavier Johnson around and adding Antony Walker. The Hoosiers needed guard depth more than a forward, and the prospects of playing alongside the ball-dominant Johnson.
Without Johnson in the lineup, Indiana starts two freshmen, two sophomores, and a senior in Trey Galloway. It also lost over ten years of college basketball experience in the front court with the departures of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, and Jordan Geronimo.
The need for experience was real, and each Johnson and Walker have had their moments this year that made Woodson’s decision appear justified.
Tonight was not one of those nights.
I’ve said it every game since he’s returned from injury (outside of the Ohio State Game), but Indiana simply needs more from Xavier Johnson. Zero points, two turnovers, three fouls, and posting a -20 in 19 minutes isn’t going to cut it.
Walker has similarly been suffering from some bad decision making of late, taking two 3-pointers tonight at pivotal moments despite being under 20% from deep this year. He’s at his best when he’s playing simple offense, cutting to the rim for layups. Not shooting transition threes.
There are any number of guys who also made costly mistakes tonight, but it really kills Indiana when it comes from the guys who have roster spots because of their experience and ability to manage the flow of the game.
The game was effectively over once Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako headed to the bench with two fouls a piece in the first half. But it didn’t necessarily have to be.
Coming into the game, Woodson was 270th nationally in 2-foul participation in the first half. You’d probably want him to be more aggressive on the whole, but it’s far from Indiana’s biggest issue on the season.
Sitting Ware and Mgbako tonight for so long was a costly mistake though. Mgbako was literally the only Indiana player scoring for a while, and with Ware out, Edey headed to the locker room with 18 first half points.
The drop off in quality of play was not limited to the defensive end when the bench players came in. There were missed layups, turnovers, and long 2-pointers that Painter couldn’t have drawn up better for his own defense. The game got away.
Going forward, Woodson is not going to be able to keep his starters on the bench when an opponent extends a lead. The margin for error for having a shot at the postseason gets smaller every game and Indiana cannot afford to get into too many more deep holes.
The lone highlight for Indiana tonight was the play of Mackenzie Mgbako, who is starting to look like Indiana’s best offensive player. He continued to beat his guy off the dribble tonight and went right at Edey in a gutsy performance reminiscent of Jalen Hood-Schifino last year.
Because of foul trouble, he wasn’t really given a shot to get to that 35-point night that JHS had in Mackey last year, but he’s starting to look capable of that kind of game. And I’m sure NBA scouts have taken notice.
All of this is to say that, however bad his defense or his foul situation may be, Indiana needs him on the floor. We are past the point in the year when Woodson can bench him for extended stretches to teach him something about defense or effort.
Not every team is going to have the size and strength of Purdue inside, so if Mgbako can keep this up in games when Reneau and Ware are also scoring, this offense can improve in a hurry.