Indiana basketball took down Harvard 89-76 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sunday.
It was the Hoosiers’ first double-digit win of the season and freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako was a big reason why. Mgbako set career highs in points and rebounds, finishing the game with 18 points and eight rebounds while shooting 7-of-13 from the field.
It has been a difficult start to the season for the former five-star recruit from New Jersey. In his first five games with Indiana basketball, Mgbako has averaged 5.0 points per game while shooting 32 percent from the field and just 1-of-13 from beyond the arc.
“Mackenzie just did what he was doing when he first got here,” Woodson said about Mgbako. “He had a game where he figured it out and he’s just gotta continue to grow, continue to work and then just let it happen.”
A lot has been made about his struggles but Mgbako’s focus has not changed.
“[I am] just staying locked in, staying aggressive, staying true to my game,” Mgbako said about his mindset. “[I am] seeing what the defense is giving me and responding to that.”
Woodson made a point to get Mgbako involved early and it clearly helped the freshman’s confidence.
On the second possession of the game, Indiana basketball ran a set that set Mgbako up for an open look on the wing which he made. Just over a minute later, Mgbako attacked the rim before making a contested mid-range jumper.
Indiana basketball was not just using Mgbako as an outlet if things were not working, they were actively searching for the freshman on the offensive end and it paid off.
Woodson is hoping this is just the start for Mgbako as the team begins Big Ten play on Friday when they host Maryland.
“He’s a freshman and he’s been working,” Woodson said. “Hopefully this will be a nice carry over to the next game.”
While it was Mgbako’s best performance of the season there is still plenty of room to grow for the young freshman.
Mgbako shot only 1-of-5 from three but had two made threes changed to twos after reviews. Mgbako is 2-of-18 from beyond the arc on the season but that number will likely improve as he becomes more comfortable on the floor.
A big part of the struggles for Mgbako this season have been on the defensive end. While he was not perfect, Mgbako showed a ton of improvement on that end of the floor, especially when it came to his positioning.
In the second half, Harvard had Indiana’s defense rotating. The Harvard ball handler looked like they had found a shooter in the corner before Mgbako rotated over and deflected the pass out of bounds.
The play won’t show up on the stat sheet but shows the improvement of Mgbako on that end of the floor as he continues to grow with Indiana basketball.
Mike Woodson emphasized that it is still early for Mgbako and he used the word ‘progress’ when discussing his performance.
“He’s a freshman and you guys expect so much from these young kids and it’s a learning process when you come out of high school,” Woodson said about Mgbako. “… He’s got a ways to go, but tonight was progress. You just got to continue to work and if you do that I think good things will happen.”
With conference play starting, Indiana basketball will need Mgbako to continue to grow and step up in his role on both sides of the court.
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