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Kel’el Ware an early bright spot in otherwise dismal offensive start for Indiana basketball



Indiana basketball center Kel'el Ware
Kel'el Ware has been an early bright spot for the Indiana basketball team despite major offensive struggles from the rest of the roster. (Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind — Indiana basketball center Kel’el Ware arrived at Indiana with the knock of inconsistent play and lack of a motor. Through four appearances for Indiana, two exhibitions and two regular season games, Ware has been a nice bright spot in an otherwise very, very inconsistent IU offense.

In Indiana’s 72-64 win over Army on Sunday night, Ware put on a terrific show in the second half and helped lift the Hoosiers to win — avoiding an absolute disaster in Assembly Hall.

Ware had a career-high 20 points on 9-of-11 from the field, six rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal in 31 minutes. It is his fourth-straight double-digit performance in an Indiana uniform. He had 10 total double-digit scoring games, inducing exhibitions, during his freshman season at Oregon.

Albeit two exhibitions included, the start of Kel’el Ware’s Indiana career has been everything that IU needed — and more. That was highlighted even more in the win over Army when he had 16 of his 20 points in the second half. He was 7-of-7 from the field after halftime. Indiana needed every last bit of them.

However, Indiana’s half court offense is a shell of what it used to be — starting a new era without the focal point of the offense for the last four years in Trayce Jackson-Davis.

While Indiana is shooting 54.5 percent from the floor in two games to start the season, it ranks 274th and 359th respectively in made field goals and attempted field goals. It also ranks 336th and 356th in made 3s and attempted 3s.

To put it nicely, the half court offense has been horrendous.

“Well, more ball movement, more pick and rolls. I mean, we played well I think enough to where we got enough in the paint. We got 36 points in the paint. That’s pretty good for us,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said following IU’s win over Army. “We haven’t shot the three ball very well, and we’re not getting very many fast break points, which we had in our first couple of exhibition games. We were out running, and that’s where we’ve got to get to, but when you are taking the ball out of the net and happen to walk it down and not getting stops because I thought there were times we just didn’t switch correctly, didn’t switch up, and they were shooting three-point shots right in our face, and they made them.”

Though Ware has been very good for Indiana this season, in three of his four appearances his production sees an uptick in the second half.

But, it’s not just Ware. The entire starting five has struggled to get out of the gate.

“It’s just not Kel’el in the first half. That whole unit has stunk the last two games in the first half,” Woodson said. “When you put a starting five out on the floor, you expect them to get you off to a great start, and we haven’t done that the last two games. I have to figure that out.”

For Ware, however, his all-around skillset has been on full display — regardless of when he shows it throughout the game.

Ware’s versatility has bailed Indiana out of numerous poor possessions. He has shown the ability to step out and hit 3s, finish through contact at the rim off of an offensive rebound, play with his back-to-the-basket on the block, fadeaways off of the block, catching lobs at the rim and even finishing in transition as he runs the floor.

That versatility was shown early in the second half on Sunday. Indiana was down 39-36 at the 16:41 mark. Ware went on to score 11 straight points for Indiana to take a 47-42 lead at the 13:24 mark.

Through two regular season games, Ware’s offensive rating is 144.9. His player efficiency rating is 31.1. Those rank seventh and third in the Big Ten respectively.

His win share rating is .325, nearly 10 points higher than the next closest Indiana basketball player.

These are his stats thus far, including exhibitions:

vs UIndy: 14 points (6-of-10), 6 rebounds, 2 block

vs Marian: 20 points (8-of-13) 11 rebounds, 1 block

vs FGCU: 13 points (2-of-5), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks

vs Army: 20 points (9-of-11), 6 rebounds, 2 blocks

Ware is leading Indiana with Xavier Johnson at 16.5 points per game. He is also averaging 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He is shooting 68.8 percent from the floor.

Sophomore forward Malik Reneau is averaging 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Senior guard Trey Galloway is averaging 10.5 points as well.

“Everybody touch the ball, move the ball. We have a whole bunch of talent. I know it’s hard to see right now, but we actually do have a lot of good talent,” Johnson said of the offense on Sunday. “We need to share the ball, move the ball, get the ball up the floor and run because that’s what the offense is supposed to do. We’re supposed to get out and get stops, and I think that’s the main problem is we’re not getting enough stops to get out and run.”

Before Sunday, Ware’s previous career-high was when he had 18 points and nine rebounds against UConn last season. Indiana faces UConn in just six days, this Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

It’s the first real test for Indiana’s 7-footer this season.

Indiana needs the entire offense to step up, yes. But, Ware looks to be a major focal point this year.

“I mean, he’s a skilled guy, but we’ve got to get him now where — because it’s getting ready to start for real now, and he’s going to be playing much bigger guys, more talented bigs,” Woodson said about Ware heading into Tuesday’s opener. “I’m just curious to see where he’s going to be once we start that journey.”

SEE ALSO: Lifeless effort from Indiana basketball on Sunday shows underlying issues just two games into season

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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.