ATLANTA, Ga. — Physicality and toughness have been two words surrounding Indiana basketball through the first month of the season — in both the positive and negative. On Saturday, it was in a negative light as Auburn opened the flood gates in a 104-76 win over Indiana.
Indiana opened up the game with a 16-6 run and did just what it had done for three straight games — land the first punch. It had become a trend ever since the loss to UConn. But, just like UConn — Auburn punched harder, more frequently and wore Indiana down.
“I thought both teams came out ready to play from a physical standpoint. We overcame early their physicality. We made shots, got stops, got rebounds. Then I made some substitutions — and I’m not putting it on the bench but when I put our starters back in the game the score was tied,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said postgame. “Then they just physically took us out of everything we wanted to do … it’s kinda like a carbon copy of the UConn game … we finally just caved in and that’s something we gotta get better in that area — putting together a full 40 minute ball game.”
That substitution pattern came when Indiana stretched its lead to 22-10 with 12:54 left in the first half. Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako exited the floor. Then one minute later it was Gabe Cupps and Malik Reneau.
The final 10:13 of the first half resulted in a 30-8 run by Auburn — a total unraveling from the Indiana basketball program.
“I kinda substitute pretty much the same way every game … bottom line, when my starters got back in the game it was a close, almost tied game. The same guys we started with — it went the other way. That was the difference in the ball game,” Woodson said. “We can’t play them (our starters) for 40 minutes. I believe in my bench so I went to my bench. It was my bench in the Michigan game that won us the game.”
After the second and third punch was landed by Auburn, Indiana not only caved in, it looked defeated and lifeless. So what did Auburn do? It ramped up the pressure even more. From a full court press to half court traps to everything in between.
It led to eight first half turnovers for Indiana and 11 points from those turnovers for the Tigers.
A 22-10 lead for Indiana eventually went to a 52-34 lead at halftime for Auburn.
“They turned up the ball pressure and didn’t allow passes to get swung around as easy and that slowed down our offense and led to them getting out in transition,” Indiana freshman guard Gabe Cupps said.
Indiana was without senior point guard Xavier Johnson for the third straight game on Saturday. It was the third start for Cupps — he ended with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists but zero turnovers.
The lack of guard depth, however, crept in and it broke Indiana.
“We were able to — Indiana turned it over 12 times, so not a lot but we were able to captatlizze on those all night long. Without Xavier Johnson, they are thin at guard. And the thing about pressure is it an accumulative effect,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “So at the end of the first half, after those guards were pressed all game … they turned it over four or five times late in the first half and I think fatigue was a factor.”
For Indiana, however, it wasn’t anything other than what it expected from the Tigers.
“They didn’t do anything differently than we thought they would do,” Woodson said. “They pressed us right from the start … I don’t know if fatigue set in … we just didn’t execute in certain situations.”
Auburn turned 12 Indiana turnovers into 15 points.
The Tigers won the transition battle; 20-10.
The largest lead for Auburn was 30 and the final 25 minutes of the game saw anywhere from a 15-25 point deficit for the Hoosiers — outside of a brief moment of light shortly into the second half when it cut the lead to 11.
Mike Woodson wanted to get Indiana back into the national light and did so by scheduling a handful of significant non-conference games away from home. Whether it was Kansas or Arizona last year. Or UConn this year — Indiana had been outscored by a combined 56 points. Today’s loss was a 28-point deficit.
At some point, you’ve gotta show up, compete and win.
“We’ve got a lot of work still in front of us … we have to take it a practice at a time, a game at a time and build,” Woodson said. “This won’t set us back. We’ll rebound and keep marching along.”
“At the end of the day it’s a long season. One game won’t determine how we play,” Reneau said. “We bounced back from the UConn game … we are going back to the drawing board.”
Indiana basketball has no time to rest, however. It welcomes No. 2 Kansas to Assembly Hall next Saturday, its next game out.
So, how will Indiana move forward? How will it respond?
Indiana bounced back after that UConn beatdown, but somehow this felt different. And, you shouldn’t need more than one lesson like that get you focused.
“Not letting the taste going out of your mouth getting beat like this and using it as motivation to practice harder, communicate better, give more effort — that’ll allow you to become a better basketball team,” Cupps said. “Everyone can feel we need to get better so I think this can bring us together even more … all the reasons we lost this game are within our control.
“Attention to detail with effort and energy. Those two are the main factors and those are within our control.”
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