BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Halloween came and went last week, but in IU’s opener vs. Florida Gulf Coast, things felt more like “trick” than “treat” for Hoosier Nation for the first 30 minutes.
Then, Kel’el Ware, Gabe Cupps, and Trey Galloway ensured sweet victory.
Thanks to Ware’s first double-double, Cupps’ inspiring defense, and Galloway’s steadiness, Indiana (1-0) defeated Florida Gulf Coast (0-1), 69-63. Galloway led all Hoosiers with 16 points
On Tuesday, IU officially opened its season at home versus the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Indiana University named the contest the “Bill Garrett Game,” in honor of the first African-American to play at the school.
Mike Woodson announced the same starting five as the exhibitions to get things going: Xavier Johnson, Galloway, Mackenzie Mgbako, Malik Reneau, and Ware.
The IU defense started the game with relentless pressure, led by the spearhead Johnson. The Eagles tested the paint early and were met frequently by the 7-foot sophomore Ware who tallied two massive rejections in the opening minutes.
The Hoosiers’ offensive start was rocky. Galloway and Johnson were occasionally reckless with the ball, resulting in three early turnovers. IU struggled to find its rhythm with so many new faces in the rotation. FGCU kept the game fairly close through the halfway point of the first 20 minutes.
The Eagles put the Hoosiers in the bonus with 11 minutes remaining in the half. However, IU could not capitalize from the free throw line. IU made just 10 of 18 attempts from the charity stripe, even coaxing a “Bronx cheer” from the Assembly Hall faithful when one of the attempts went through the net.
The Hoosier led at the half 28-26. Ware served as an offensive force, leading the Hoosiers with eight at the break.
IU started the second half with a more controlled offense. Instead of forcing the drive, the Hoosiers used Ware as a distributor in the paint, both in the high post and the low block. Reneau contributed a couple of points with some impressive post moves.
The Eagles wouldn’t let the Hoosiers separate. They stayed with IU to open the half and eventually took the lead. Indiana’s defensive rotations broke down at times, leaving perimeter players, such as Dallion Johnson and Zach Anderson open for the three-ball. Even without starting guard Isaiah Thompson, the Eagles were comfortable taking threes, making five of their first six after half.
The Hoosiers trailed by as many as six points until the offense caught fire. The Assembly Hall crowd provided those classic deafening moments, as IU scored fourteen unanswered points. A three from Johnson and an and-one from Reneau created particularly explosive praise from the fans.
Hoosier Nation also noticed the tenacious defensive play of freshman Gabe Cupps. The guard from Ohio locked up numerous FGCU defenders, recording deflections and contesting jump shots. Cupps recorded two steals in the second half, and Woodson noticed his performance, playing the freshman 12 out of a possible 20 second-half minutes.
The Indiana defense worked tirelessly to shut down the Eagles, yet some miscues by IU’s offense against FGCU’s full-court press gave up quick points to the visitors. After a bucket by Princeton transfer Keeshawn Kellman cut IU’s lead to a precarious two points, the Hoosiers received clutch free throws by Johnson and Ware to seal the victory.
Indiana hosts Army on Sunday night at 7p ET on BTN. The Black Knights are No. 322 in KenPom after losing to Marist at home 71-55 in Monday’s opener. KenPom has IU beating Army, 79-57.
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