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



Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson
The Indians basketball program was sleepwalking though a 72-64 win vs Army -- but the issues are much bigger than this one game.

The Indiana basketball program avoided a monumental upset on Sunday night in a 72-64 win over Army, but it was anything but excitement following the final buzzer.

Indiana — who came in as 24-point favorites — lacked energy, toughness, purpose and excitement. And, it showed.

Indiana trialed for 14:37 in the first half against an Army team that entered the matchup rated 339th (out of 363) in the KenPom ratings.

It wasn’t until a fast break alley-oop to Kel’el Ware at the 0:59 mark of the second half that put Indiana fans at ease.

So, what was the issue? Well, it’s been a common theme this season through two games.

“I’m going to be honest,” Indiana basketball starting point guard and captain Xavier Johnson said postgame. “In practice we have our young guys, including myself. I’m not young, but including me, Galloway, and just the whole team. We’re not going as hard. I think our preparation led to that, and that’s what I believe.”

Starling slow and coming out lifeless has struck the Hoosiers in nearly every game — including exhibitions — this year. Indiana was down two points to UIndy in the first exhibition at halftime. Indiana was up only two points to Florida Gulf Coast in the season opener. And then on Sunday, it led for just 1:56 of the first half and were up by one point at halftime.

“That whole unit has stunk the last two games in the first half,” Said Indiana head coach Mike Woodson when talking about the starters. “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.”

There was expected to be some growing pains with this team. It was a total roster overhaul and a roster that lost Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jalen Hood-Schifino and All-American forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. But, this has been very bad to start.

Indiana has loads of talents — that’s not the issue. But, inserting former five-stars and offseason additions Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako with a new starter in Malik Reneau, and there have been issues offensively.

Ball movement has been at a minimal. Ball watching has been heightened. And, there is a real lack of cohesiveness on the floor.

“Well, more ball movement, more pick and rolls,” Woodson said of what the offense should look like. “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. 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.

” … We’re not getting the ball out and getting up the floor and playing faster. So those are things that we can build on. We can continue to work at, but we can’t just live in the half court game this season. I mean, I want to play faster, and I got to get us to doing that because we’re not doing it yet.”

Indiana was led by Kel’el Ware who had a career-high 20 points — including 16 points on 7-of-7 from the floor in the second half. Xavier Johnson added 19 points. Malik Reneau was the final double-digit scorer with 14 points. He also added seven rebounds and five assists.

Johnson had 15 of Indiana’s 32 first-half points. Ware and Reneau had 26 of the 40 points after halftime.

While Indiana shot 58.1 percent from the floor, it was outscored 39-12 on 3s, had just four fast break points and turned the ball over 18 times.

Mackenzie Mgbako has played nine minutes in the second in both games combined. He has just six total points through two games. Indiana’s bench — most notably CJ Gunn and Kaleb Banks — have struggled to start this year as well. All three were, and are, expected to play significant roles this year.

“I want to see more from Mackenzie, more from Kaleb, more from CJ,” Woodson said. “I want to see more when they’re in the game. If I don’t feel like they’re giving it to me, I’ve got to go somewhere else and get it.”

“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. “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.”

While it’s just two games into the season, there shouldn’t be massive overreactions. But the bottom line is; this team is soft, both mentally and physically.

“I think that goes back to the preparation,” Johnson said. “Guys in practice, you know, we just go soft up for layups. And when we turn over the ball, we think it’s on the GAs that’s reffing our little games when we play each other. I think with need to get stronger with the ball, and turnovers is the issue right now for this one game honestly.”

Indiana basketball returns to action on Thursday against Wright State. And then, the competition really starts. Six days from now, Indiana faces defending-National Champion UConn at Madison Square Garden.

Look: Indiana basketball coaching staff wearing red sweaters vs Army to honor Bob Knight

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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.