Indiana’s bench has been inconsistent for so much of this season. On Tuesday, it finally reached a breaking point.
The Hoosiers suffered their second loss in three games, falling to Michigan State, 80-65, in East Lansing. There are a number of things that led to that result, not all of which have to do with basketball itself. The Spartans played with heavy hearts and a particular desire to win in their first home game after the tragic shooting on campus last week.
And in terms of the on-court performance, this was a rare occasion when Trayce Jackson-Davis was not the best player on the floor. That would go to MSU’s Tyson Walker, who hit several difficult, contested outside shots; he went 5 for 7 from 3-point range and scored 23 points.
Jackson-Davis finished with solid numbers in 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. But he set a career high with seven turnovers and often looked a step slow, either physically or mentally.
Michigan State’s rebounding edge played a big part in its victory. The Spartans held a 33-24 advantage on the glass, including 10-5 in offensive rebounds. MSU turned the latter figure into 13 second-chance points.
But IU’s bench performance stuck out, once again. The Hoosiers got a total of six points from outside their starting five, and four of those points came from CJ Gunn and Anthony Leal in garbage time.
Malik Reneau scored the other bench points, on a 1-for-4 clip with four rebounds. Jordan Geronimo and Kaleb Banks each finished scoreless in eight minutes without attempting a field goal.
Tamar Bates also ended up scoreless for the third time in the last four games, all on the road.
Michigan State’s bench, meanwhile, scored 17 points.
IU head coach Mike Woodson knows he needs more from his reserves, especially in away games.
“We’ve been pretty decent at home, we have struggled on the road coming off the bench,” Woodson said. “We’ve just got to, somehow, like I told them, we’ve got to figure that out as we continue this journey. Because eventually, you’re going to have to go out on the road and win a game.”
Bates, for most of the season, has been a different player on the road than he has at home. He’s averaging 2.5 points per game in road games, compared to 9.3 at home. He’s shooting 52.2 percent on field goals in Bloomington, but 21.6 percent away. He’s at 58.3 percent on 3-pointers at home, but 20 percent on the road.
And woes to that extent spill over into other areas. He’s had trouble defensively, as well.
He saw 13 minutes on Tuesday, and only entered the stat sheet three total times — a steal, followed by a turnover three seconds later, and then a missed jumper over nine minutes after that sequence. Bates didn’t play the entire second half.
It’s been a major struggle for the sophomore away from Assembly Hall. And that’s been a huge blow to Indiana’s guard depth. With Xavier Johnson still out, IU doesn’t have many options.
Woodson subbed Jalen Hood-Schifino out after the freshman picked up his second foul with 6:14 left in the first half. IU held a 22-13 lead at that point. The Spartans reduced that deficit to three points less than two minutes later, and they took the lead within four minutes.
“(The run was) frustrating,” Trey Galloway said. “We got off to a good start. We kind of just fell apart defensively a little bit there. I think it was the rebounds and the second-chance points. That’s what killed us.”
Johnson’s absence puts Woodson in a tricky position when he has to sit Hood-Schifino. He defended his decision after the game, and while the game did turn after that move, that wasn’t the problem. Situations arise all the time where players need to come out, whether injuries, more serious foul trouble, or otherwise; if it wasn’t the second foul in East Lansing, it could have been something else. He’s human. The bigger problem was how poorly the replacement played.
And when that happens on the road, there isn’t much Woodson can do. Bates has been unplayable. Johnson is still out. The only other guards IU could pair with Galloway in these moments are Gunn or Leal, and neither would be comfortably reliable options. Putting Miller Kopp at the two hardly seems viable, either.
If and when Johnson returns, that will be a huge help with this problem. But even so, Bates’ splits this season are very discouraging for his postseason prospects. The Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments are, in fact, not played in Bloomington.
The bench woes at Breslin Center were not solely on Bates, though. IU could use more from Reneau in situations like this. It would be big to get back the Geronimo that, for a stretch, played some real solid basketball earlier in Big Ten play.
When those guys are all having off games, it leaves too much work for the usual load-carriers. IU did get a third scorer in double-digits here, as Galloway got to 11. But there was too much else going against the Hoosiers in this matchup for that to make a big difference.
This IU team, entering the season, was touted as being much deeper than last year’s iteration. In fairness, a long-term injury for a starter would cut into any team’s depth. And Woodson has typically used an eight-man rotation, which he didn’t always do last year.
But with Jackson-Davis already playing such heavy minutes and Hood-Schifino carrying a hefty load himself — JHS averaged 35.6 minutes per game over the five games entering Tuesday — the bench woes pose a serious threat for Indiana. A game like this could happen again, pretty easily, if nothing changes.
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