CHAMPAIGN, Ill – Indiana basketball came into Saturday’s matchup with a clear point of emphasis and that was both defensively and on the glass. Without starting center Kel’el Ware and a dominant rebounding team in Illinois, it was clear Mackenzie Mgbako would have to increase his production on that end of the floor.
He answered the call in a big way, turning in his first career double-double. He showed a great amount of growth in the two areas that kept him off the floor for much of the early parts of the season; rebounding and defensively.
Mgabko finished with a game-high 12 rebounds in addition to 12 points. His four offensive rebounds were also a game-high.
“I just knew that they (Illinois) were a team that was heavy on the offensive boards,” Mgbako said postgame. “So I knew that they were gonna crash, so I just had to box out.”
Mgbako’s aggressiveness on the boards was highlighted by his quick start in the second half. He had six points and two offensive rebounds in the first 2:38 out of halftime.
The physical style of play has been the added part of Mgbako’s development. It has allowed his overall offensive game to progress to a three level scorer. Not only is he able to score in the midrange, he’s also a very effective three-point shooter and now at the rim as a slasher and rebounder.
In his last 15 games, he’s averaging 12.8 points per game while shooting 42.1 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three. He has nine games in the last 15 with at least two made 3s. He also has eight games with at least four free throw attempts.
“You think back to when he started, he struggled. Mack has come a long way in terms of where he started and where he is at today,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “He’s trying to do the right things on the floor. He’s still learning. He’s in that learning stage. From a defensive standpoint, he still has a ways to go.”
Despite Mgbako’s early season struggles, he’s now become the second go-to option behind Malik Reneau. He’s scored 10+ points in 13 of the last 15 points and has seen his usage increase.
In the last 10 games, he’s seen his shots per game go up to 10.0 per game from the 7.0 per game in the first 10 games.
“Sometimes you gotta fail to be successful,” Woodson said. “I like his work ethic. When he’s in practice, he gives you what he’s got. But tonight, you saw a guy that was relentless on the board. He rebounded for us when we needed it and he made tough shots inside. I’m happy with Mack, man, I just think he’s gonna continue to get better as the games go along.”
Mgbako is now averaging 10.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 40.6 percent from the field, 32.9 percent from three and 85.5 percent from the free throw line. He also has the second-highest usage rate for Indiana this year behind Reneau.
With his increased efficiency and progression, it’s clear that Mgbako will continue to be a clear option for Indiana during the final 11 games of the season.
“I feel like I started off a little bit slow because the defense we’re running is a little bit different than what I learned in high school,” Mgbako said earlier this month about his growth. “So just being able to just grow under Coach Woodson is really good.”
SEE ALSO: There’s no moral victory. Indiana basketball had the winning formula but failed to make the ‘plays coming down the stretch’
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