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Indiana basketball starts slow, uses strong second half to cruise to exhibition win over Indianapolis



Indiana basketball
It was a slow start for the Indiana basketball program but a halftime speech and a second-half surge knocked the rust off in a 74-52 win. (Rich Janzaruk/Herald-TImes-USA TODAY NETWORK)

Indiana basketball got its 2023-24 season underway on Sunday afternoon but it took a while for the Hoosiers to find their footing. After a slow start, Indiana found its way and then cruised to a 74-52 win over Indianapolis.

After losing seven players from a season ago and bringing in six new faces, chemistry issues as well as rust was to be expected. Right out of the gate you could tell that it may take a while for this group to fully click on the court.

Indiana shot just 32.3 percent from the floor in the first half and scored 25 points, at just .714 points per possession. The issue wasn’t getting clean or open looks, it was just finishing. Indiana was 6-of-19 on layups and only attempted four 3s — missing every one of them.

And, after 20 minutes it was a 27-25 halftime lead for Indianapolis.

“We had a nice halftime talk,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “But I thought, to start the game, I thought we were a little tight. Guys not really familiar the first time playing in front of a crowd. And I’m not using that as an excuse. We missed so many layups, our bigs, around the rim, and we couldn’t make free throws. And you’ve got to give them credit. That team plays hard.

“They won 26 games last year. Pretty much got everybody back. And they came in here and they played their butts off the first half. And I thought we adjusted and finally started playing Indiana basketball. And it started with our defense.”

That halftime talk lit a fire for the team and led to a 49-25 advantage in the second half and getting bak to playing ‘Indiana basketball’.

“Real Coach Woody came out,” Senior forward Anthony Walker said about the locker room at halftime. “He wanted us to play Indiana basketball like he’s been coaching us all summer and the way he’s coached since he’s been here. That’s exactly what I feel like we did in the second half.”

Indiana went on to shoot 64.5 percent in the second half, force 10 turnovers and limit Indianapolis to just 2-of-16 on 3s. After seven assists and seven turnovers in the first 20 minutes, the Hoosiers had 14 assists to just three turnovers in the second half.

“I told our guys we were too soft,” Woodson said. “We’ve got to be tougher. You’ve got to will the ball in. Put it in the bucket. Don’t hope that it goes in; you’ve got to put it in there. I thought the second half we were better in that regard.”

That second-half push was initially led by Xavier Johnson, Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau. They scored the first 17 points coming out of halftime, leading Indiana to 1.7 points per possession through the first few minutes of the half.

Then, the second unit kept pace and extended the lead. It was led by tremendous defensive efforts out of Gabe Cupps — who had a terrific segment of 4-5 possessions that included a 10-second violation, steal and three deflections — Anthony Walker, CJ Gunn and others.

Indiana scored 11 points off of 10 second-half Indianapolis turnovers and also had 22 fast break points. In total, IU had 20 points off of turnovers and 28 fast break points.

“I thought our second unit was fantastic. I thought Gabe came in and got that group around him, and they started to really defend and got the lead that we needed to have,” Woodson said. ” … I’ve always stressed that the second unit is just as important as the first unit. And I’ve tried to build teams that way, where if you’re not getting it from the first unit, you can go get it from the second unit.”

Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako led all scorers with 14 points (21 combined coming in the second half). Malik Reneau had 13 points and Xavier Johnson added nine points and five assists.

Indiana gets back on the floor on Friday against Marian in the final tuneup before the season-opener on November 7 against Florida Gulf Coast.

“I think that first half that we played was probably the best thing that could have happened to us coming out as our first game, knowing that we need to play basketball to the best of our ability against everybody,” Walker said. “We need to play as hard as we can against everybody. So us being able to take that punch that they gave and come together and work as a team in the second half and pull it through, I think it was something that was really important.”

SEE ALSO: Highlights of Indiana basketball win over UIndy in opening exhibition

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.