As the buzzer sounded yesterday in Champaign, signaling a Hoosier loss in a game many think they should’ve come away with; Malik Reneau could walk off the floor with his head held high.
This is because he had another stellar performance for IU, scoring 21, rebounding seven, and assisting once. This was his second-straight 20-point and fifth overall, showing how, even in Big Ten play, he can still be a significant scorer down low even in Big Ten play. And that’s where almost all of his points came from, down low, a place on the floor where he shines.
The focal point of his game has always been backing down the defender until he has an opportunity to put the ball up, but on Saturday, it felt like he did this on every possession. On one play in particular he backed Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins down from the left side of the three-point arc to under the basket, finishing it off with an easy lay-in. This capped off a 13-0 run for Indiana and put the Hoosiers up seven with just 12 minutes remaining, meaning that many thought IU had it in the bag.
This was not the case, though, as the Illini stormed back and eventually won, partly because of Reneau himself, not because of any lousy play on the court, but because he fouled out with three minutes left. This wasn’t entirely his fault, though, as the absence of center Kel’el Ware greatly impacted Reneau fouling out.
Because Ware was not under the basket on defense, like he typically is with Reneau, it was just Reneau for the majority of the game. This caused Reneau to get almost all the under-the-basket fouls that he would generally share with Ware, resulting in him getting five fouls prematurely.
Although this was a negative thing for the Hoosiers, it showed how impactful Reneau is on offense. With him out for the last few minutes of the game, the IU offense completely changed and went silent for the last minute or more. It’s not ridiculous to say that if Reneau had played the last three minutes, the Illini victory would have been a Hoosier victory instead.
Nonetheless, playing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game is pointless, ending with a defeat for IU. That isn’t to say there weren’t any bright spots, as Reneau was undoubtedly the game's highlight. His intensity and grit on offense were highly apparent throughout the game, as it was obvious that he was giving 110% on defense as well.
This type of game shows how tough a player really is, as going into a hostile road environment is never easy. This didn’t faze Reneau, though, as he led his team to a performance many would say was a moral victory, although the actual victory eluded them. Despite that, Malik Reneau put together another excellent performance yesterday against the Illini.