Before championships are won in March and April, lessons are learned in October and November. For Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers, today’s practice game offered many teachable moments that will help his team in the long run.
In the first game action at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall since the regular season finale vs. Michigan on March 5, Indiana knocked off the University of Indianapolis, 74-52. Newcomers Mackenzie Mgbako and Kel’el Ware led IU with 14 points each, but the energy provided by the bench unit helped the Hoosiers separate from the Greyhounds.
There was very little difference between the teams in the early going. After Paul Zilinskas hit a three to start the scoring in Sunday’s contest, Malik Reneau knocked down the first basket of the game for the Hoosiers.
It took both teams a while to find their rhythm. UIndy, the defending champs from the Great Lakes Valley Conference from Division II, missed 14 of their first 16 field goal attempts. Meanwhile, Indiana misfired on 14 of their first 16 as well. The difference was that many of the Greyhounds’ shots came from deep. On the other hand, IU frequently had a tough time converting close to the rim.
IU’s bench, which did not have Kaleb Banks and Jakai Newton today, provided a clear and obvious jolt, once the reserves started entering the game. CJ Gunn, Gabe Cupps and Payton Sparks both made multiple big plays to draw applause from the IU faithful.
Gunn pumped in a quick seven points, including a fastbreak dunk, to give IU a 14-11 lead. Meanwhile, Cupps, Sparks, and Anthony Walker locked UIndy down on the defensive end. Gunn and Walker each recorded a steal in the first half. Every one of IU’s five bench players, including Anthony Leal, recorded a positive +/- in the first half.
The Greyhounds remained persistent throughout the duration of the first half, and thanks to a couple threes from FW Carroll high alum David Ejah, and a triple from Sean Craig, UIndy took the lead in Bloomington into halftime.
Indiana flipped a two-point deficit into a 10-point advantage before the under-12 timeout in the second half. Xavier Johnson, back from his foot injury that derailed his 2022-23 campaign, scored on a couple of fastbreak layups and disrupted UIndy’s tempo offensively.
With 14:23 to go in the game, Johnson drilled a three off a kick-out from Reneau that counted as IU’s first triple of the game. They would go on to make 3-of-6 (50%) from deep in the second half, finishing 3-of-10 (30%) for the game.
IU continued building on their lead. Mgbako scored four straight in his first collegiate game. Walker drained a couple shots of his own. Cupps, Gunn, and Leal added to the scoreboard as well.
With 8:29 left, and IU leading by 14, Sparks fell awkwardly to the ground on a play in transition. After the trainer went out on the floor to assist him, he got up and walked off the court on his own power. Woodson indicated after the game that the injury should not keep him out for an extended duration, so IU fans can exhale.
Even though the result was in hand at that point, Mgbako and Ware did not relax and made the most out of the final portion of the game. Mgbako tacked on a three and a layup to reach double figures, while Ware showcased his versatility, scoring via dunk, layup, free throw, and three-pointer. The three came after IU’s best half-court possession of the game.
Ware also was a menace defensively, protecting the rim with two rejections. Overall, no Hoosier played more than Reneau’s 26 minutes on the day, allowing Woodson and his staff plenty of time to review his rotations going into the season opener.
IU has another exhibition contest on Friday night vs. Marian at 6:30 PM ET on B1G+. The Knights, who play in the Crossroads League in the NAIA, also hail from Indianapolis, so the trip to Bloomington should be a fairly simple one. IU’s regular season opener is Nov. 7 vs. FGCU.
Featured Image: Indiana Athletics