Following the sluggish performance put forth by the Indiana Hoosiers a few nights ago in the nail-biting victory over Morehead State, there was an increase in concern regarding the actual competitiveness of this year's men's basketball team. Despite improving to 8-3 with that win, the team came away with sights set on a bounce back game in last night's contest with North Alabama. A bounce back was what everyone desired, and a bounce back was what everyone received.
Malik Reneau had a career high 25 points, even knocking down all 4 of his 3 point attempts on the evening. Reneau did a lot of his damage in the opening half, scoring 16 in the first frame to lead the Hoosiers to a 43-34 advantage at the intermission. His frontcourt partner Kel'el Ware had a quiet night, but the team received even contributions across the board. Trey Galloway may have finished with a measly 8 points on the night (including hitting 2/4 from downtown for the 3rd consecutive game), but he also dished out a career high 9 dimes. With the team's ongoing quest for consistent playmaking punch in the backcourt, the coaching staff will gladly accept any and all increased table-setting that Trey has up his sleeve.
The freshman were once again solid for Indiana, but nowhere near spectacular (somewhat of a recurring theme early in the season). Mackenzie Mgbako finished with 12 points (4/9 shooting plus 2/6 from outside), 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a block. Those numbers will not have NBA scouts licking their chops, but this was another small step forward in the heralded prospect's first year at this level. Gabe Cupps started his 6th straight game in the absence of Xavier Johnson and supplied his normal perimeter harassment on defense and steady hand on offense. Cupps may never produce any jaw dropping highlights in year one, but the collected nature by which he exudes himself is outstanding. He never tries to force things, and he never looks rattled despite being thrust into such a major role RIGHT AWAY.
The bench unit also deserves some credit for their work in this one. The 5-man reserve lineup of CJ Gunn, Anthony Leal, Kaleb Banks, Anthony Walker and Payton Sparks combined to drop 25 points (9/21 from the field + 3/8 from deep + 4/7 from the free throw stripe), 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals (3 swipes for CJ Gunn alone). There are some talented guys playing above these fellas, but those guys on the pine are every bit as important to this team's success as the starters. The hope is that they can string together some consistency going forward, as depth has been a glaring issue for Indiana.
Of all the positives stemming from the end results in this one, there is but one that stands out amongst the crowd. Indiana entered this game as one of the absolute worst of the worst in the nation when it comes to 3 point shooting percentage. The team traded their typical bricks for hits in this one, splashing a season high 12 triples on 24 attempts, with 7 different Hoosiers swooshing a shot from the great beyond. They will look to carry the momentum from last night's shooting display into next week's game in Bloomington versus Kennesaw State (9-3 overall, 2-3 on the road).
Merry (early) Christmas Hoosier fans!