BLOOMINGTON — With the first half under-12 media timeout approaching during Indiana’s game against North Alabama, the Hoosiers executed a broken offensive possession.
Trey Galloway drove to the rim and kicked it out, and the shot clock began running low. Kaleb Banks seemed unaware for a moment as he swung the ball around the 3-point line to Malik Reneau with a few seconds to spare. Reneau had to launch a deep, contested three to avoid a turnover.
The forward shot 26.3 percent from 3-point range in his career entering Thursday’s game. Reneau had already made one, but on most nights, he’s not normally IU’s top choice to attempt such a shot.
But this was not most nights for Reneau. And this was not most nights for Indiana men’s basketball. The shot fell.
That moment was when this game started to feel different for the Hoosiers. They drained a season-high 12 3-pointers on 24 attempts, and rode that to an 83-66 win over UNA at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“It’s good to see the ball go in the hole,” IU head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “When you take ’em, you’re supposed to make ’em. I thought tonight we did a good job in getting the ball moved around. We had 25 assists. That means the ball was moving a little bit and guys made some shots.”
This sort of 3-point shooting performance is not the norm in Bloomington. The Hoosiers (9-3) ranked 361st in Division I (out of 362) with 13.3 3-point attempts per game entering Thursday. They were 359th in the nation with 3.6 made threes per game. And they were 338th with a 27.4 percent 3-point clip.
But Reneau led IU’s charge in reversing that script. The sophomore set career-highs by shooting 4 for 4 from beyond the arc, 10 for 14 from the field, for 25 points. He’s knocked down the occasional 3-pointer in previous game, usually only when left wide open. But Thursday, Reneau looked like a much more seasoned shooter. He became more confident — naturally — as he saw more shots fall, both outside and inside.
The work Reneau’s put in during practices also helped his confidence grow.
“I’ve been working out with Coach (Calbert) Cheaney a lot, just understanding how he played the game, how he was able to work around the court, be able to get his shot wherever he wanted on the court,” Reneau said. “Just getting reps up, man, being confident when you go out there, not being scared to shoot the ball. I think that was the main part for me.”
It was more than just Reneau as well. For a team as adverse to 3-point shooting as IU has been this season, it’s significant to have seven different players hit triples. Galloway and Mackenzie Mgbako each hit two, and Gabe Cupps, Anthony Walker, Kaleb Banks, and Anthony Leal all drained one.
Indiana’s strong passing and off-ball movement played a big role in orchestrating the big offensive performance. It went beyond the outside shots — the Hoosiers executed so many strong, hard cuts to the basket with nice bounce passes leading them into easy looks.
Opponents have attacked Reneau and Kel’el Ware with double-teams inside recently, and North Alabama (6-7) followed suit. But the Hoosiers finally adjusted and made better passes out of the post, and it helped set up those outside shots.
“They were double-teaming a lot in the post from the feeder,” Reneau said. “We made the adjustment to either cut down to the short three, the corner three, or just to cut through the nail to make the layup. It opened up a lot in the post. Just being able to set stronger screens and be able to connect on the screens to get open. I think we did a great job on that.”
The Hoosiers, just two nights earlier, flirted with disaster. They shot 3 for 16 from 3-point range, and needed a 15-point comeback to avoid an upset threat from Morehead State on Tuesday. The team’s response Thursday was about as good as you could expect — Indiana played good basketball from the opening tip, got stronger as the game went on, and kept its foot on the gas after building the lead. The Hoosiers have struggled to put games out of reach like that in most games this season, so that was especially encouraging Thursday.
It’s unreasonable to expect, or even anticipate, IU to be able to replicate this performance. Reneau and the Hoosiers may not shoot this well from 3-point range again the rest of the season. And Indiana doesn’t face an opponent the rest of the season ranked lower in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency than North Alabama.
But Woodson has repeatedly said this season that their 3-point volume isn’t an issue, and that they just need to make more of the ones they take. If nothing else, this game showed that the Hoosiers have this type of outside shooting in them, somewhere.
“We’ve had good looks all year. The ball has moved some all year. Just got to stick the ball in the hole when you have the shots,” Woodson said. “I thought tonight guys were comfortable, they shot it. When they had the shoot they took it and they made it.”
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