As a five-star recruit, Mackenzie Mgbako was expected to make a serious impact from the get-go, and although his season has started up and down, his impact was felt during this week's games.
Starting with Tuesday’s battle at Rutgers, Mgbako was among the few bright spots for the Hoosiers. It was an all-around awful game offensively for IU, but Mgbako made three three-pointers, highlighting the night for the losing squad.
Although the Rutgers game wasn’t spectacular, his showing was noteworthy. In addition to his long-range shots, Mgbako grabbed five rebounds and had two assists. Both are not shocking numbers, but they positively impacted the game result.
This was a solid start to the week for Mgbako despite the awful loss. He was good off the ball, and like most of the Hoosiers on Tuesday, his defense was respectable. His week would only get better, though, as his best performance would come on Friday night back at home against Minnesota.
Needing a win after an embarrassing loss to Rutgers, Mgbako stepped up for the Hoosiers on Friday at Assembly Hall. In front of an anxious crowd desperate for a bounce-back win, Mgbako provided 19 points on six-for-twelve shooting. He also added four rebounds and two assists to complement his career night in scoring. This was a breakout performance for the five-star freshman in more ways than one.
Although he had a solid game against Rutgers, his inexperience was sometimes apparent, as it has been for most of the season. Against the Gophers, though, he looked like a seasoned veteran, always knowing where to be and what decision to make. This may be the most significant improvement for this game, as making the right decisions on several possessions directly led to many Hoosier buckets.
Many of those buckets were his own, including two threes that energized the crowd. The first was on the second possession of the game, allowing the crowd to get into the game and setting the tone for what ended up being a big Hoosiers win. You could tell Mgbako was having a good time on the court, playing confidently and freely after his excellent start to the game.
This allowed Mgbako to play great not only on offense but also on defense. His defense has been suspect all season, but he was apparently playing with a different type of fire on Friday. He added a steal and seriously contributed to the all-around excellent defensive performance by all the Hoosiers.
While his outstanding performance was significant for his development as a player, getting the win was the bottom line. Mgbako did everything he could to ensure an IU win, which they got, showing that he can impact games in ways that lead to victories. This should be a stepping stone for him, allowing him to achieve that next level of stardom most Hoosier fans know he’s capable of.