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‘We got out toughed and I don’t like that’: Indiana basketball shows glaring holes with lack of toughness, effort in loss to UConn



Indiana basketball
The Indiana basketball program failed to show the effort and toughness it needed to have when competing with a top-5 UConn team on Sunday. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

NEW YORK, NY — The Indiana basketball program faced its first big test on Sunday afternoon and it wasn’t ready for the challenge, falling to No. 5 UConn 77-57 at Madison Square Garden.

Indiana came into the Empire Classic with a lot of questions following three lethargic wins to get its season started. The same issues that were evident in the first three games for Indiana were emphasized even more against the Huskies.

The big ones though — effort and toughness — were glaring issues. Neither of which Indiana showed.

“We gotta get tougher. We’re not tough enough, not yet,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “We put so much pressure on our defense to get stops and then come down and have terrible offense. That’s on me. I take pride trying to keep everything balanced so I have to do a better job of getting them better looks.”

Indiana shot just 37.8 percent from the field. It was just 3-of-13 from three — outscored by 12.

But the biggest difference in the game was the rebounding battle.

Indiana was out rebounded 44-22 overall while the Huskies had 15 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points.

The Hoosiers came into Sunday with an even rebounding battle this year and -18 in the offensive rebounding battle.

“That’s the difference. That’s been — go back and look at our stats the last three games, that’s been very glaring,” Woodson said. “Our guards are not rebounding and we’re trying to leave it up to (Kel’el) Ware and Malik (Reneau) to get all our rebounds … we gotta do a better job at rebounding … they were the aggressor rebounding and getting after us defensively.”

“It’s all effort. It takes some more effort to stick your nose in there.”

Kel’el War had eight rebounds while Malik Reneau had three. No other Hoosier had more than one.

Indiana, who trailed for 35:47 of the game, had its chances despite the rebounding and shooting struggles. There were three different occasions in which Indiana was able to take a 12 to 14-point deficit and cut it to seven.

The last time was at the 13:05 mark. After a steal, Xavier Johnson tried to get out in transition but quickly turned the ball over after trying to dribble through traffic. It led to a three-point play and Reneau picking up his fourth foul. Following a miss on the free throw attempt, UConn grabbed the offensive rebound and would convert.

It went from a potential four-point deficit back up to 11.

“It was 43-50 and we cut it to seven. And X (Xavier Johnson), instead of him letting the traffic go, he tried to go through traffic and they tipped the ball and ended up with a three point play,” Woodson said. “I thought that was the biggest play of the game.”

“We’re right there and we knew that. They aren’t 20 points better than us,” Indiana basketball guard Trey Galloway said postgame. “Our assertiveness and awareness to get stops. There were a few times we got it to seven and kept it there but couldn’t get it over the hump. Knowing each possession matters so much in that critical time, we just need to find ways to be ready to go when things get tough.”

Indiana would score just 14 points the remainder of the game. They missed the next six shots and finished just 3-of-12 from the field.

Reneau led Indiana with 18 points on 7-of-9 from the field. He was the only player who was able to produce any offense.

Ware — who entered Sunday averaging 18.3 points per game while shooting 74.1 percent from the floor — struggled. It was also the first time his motor was in question this year. He had just 11 points on 2-of-10 from the field going up against projected first round pick and 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan.

“I was a little disappointed,” Woodson said of Ware. ” … a lot of his stuff (earlier this year) was coming in the paint and it looked like he didn’t want any of that tonight.”

Indiana’s perimeter play was outscored 50-16 on the afternoon. Galloway had 10 points while Xavier Johnson had four and was limited to just 14 minutes due to foul trouble.

Indiana had played Florida Gulf Coast, Army and Wright State. All three games were single-digit wins despite being heavy favorites.

Sunday punched Indiana squarely in the face. Now, despite just four games in, Monday will be a major moment in the young season for this Indiana basketball team. It has a quick turnaround and will play either Texas or Louisville.

It’s a chance to show some resiliency and get a good win to go home with. These are the types of games that Mike Woodson wanted though, even if Sunday’s performance was anything but pretty.

“Absolutely, that’s why we scheduled that way. We knew this game would be tough … I was so anxious to get to the game to see where we were as a ball club. But they put us in our place,” Woodson said. ” … We got out toughed and I don’t like that. I gotta figure it out.”

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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.