BLOOMINGTON — This Indiana men’s basketball team is largely defined by its new faces.
With six newcomers playing a lot of major roles, those players could ultimately define how low Indiana’s floor is and how high its ceiling can be this year.
But with the Hoosiers locked in a battle against Florida Gulf Coast at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, they had more familiar faces step up with the game in the balance. Senior guards Trey Galloway and Xavier Johnson and sophomore forward Malik Reneau all scored in double-figures in the second half to help IU survive and open the season with a 69-63 win on Tuesday.
Reneau was Indiana’s steadiest player for several stretches of this game. He finished with 15 points on a 6-of-10 clip, with one rebound, two assists and two turnovers. He was particularly good in the second half, shooting 4 for 6 for 11 points.
But Reneau’s stat line doesn’t tell the full story of his performance. He played with a lot of confidence in the post, unafraid of backing down defenders, welcoming contact, and drawing several fouls.
Earlier in the game, it seemed the sophomore was headed down a familiar path. He alternated positive moments with avoidable mistakes, notably with fouls. Reneau picked up his second foul with 2:48 left in the first half, and went to the bench until halftime.
He then committed a third just before the first media timeout of the second half and came out again. Florida Gulf Coast went on a 9-4 run to regain the lead in that stretch with Reneau on the bench.
But Reneau checked back in with 12:01 remaining, and avoided fouling the rest of the way.
“Our biggest thing is we want him on the floor,” Galloway said. “I think in the offseason, telling him we need you on the floor and you can’t foul. Obviously last year, he had a lot of times where he got in foul trouble and a lot of the dumb fouls. So him being disciplined and not gambling (is important), because he had that one (gamble that) got him the third foul. So I think just knowing we need him out there and to not gamble will be huge for him to stay on the floor, because we need him.”
Indiana had a lot of trouble for much of the evening with its defensive rotations, one of the main things that afforded Florida Gulf Coast a foothold in the game. But the Hoosiers’ defensive improvements later in the game helped them take control. Johnson provided one of his biggest moments of the night on defense, in the middle of Indiana’s second-half comeback.
IU head coach Mike Woodson called timeout with 10:43 left in the game and the Eagles ahead by six. The Hoosiers stormed out of that timeout with a big run, started by an and-one by Reneau. Johnson then made a savvy play by taking a charge, which got the crowd going. That led to a clutch second-chance bucket on the other end by Galloway.
Johnson then capped that big stretch with a 3-pointer that forced an FGCU timeout. The senior played a strong second half, with 10 points on a 3-for 5 clip, three rebounds, and one assist with no turnovers. He scored 14 total points on the night.
After he displayed varying levels of effectiveness in the first half, Johnson was the player IU needs him to be in the second half.
Galloway, meanwhile, came up with so many big shots for the Hoosiers on Tuesday. The second-chance play after Johnson’s charge was a heads-up moment, as he came from away from the play to grab the offensive rebound and hit a floater. He later pulled out a slick spin move on a layup that gave Indiana a 10-point lead with 1:28 to play.
The senior shot 7 for 9 for a team-high 16 points, 10 of which came in the second half. Four of his seven made field goals resulted in lead changes, with the score previously tied or with IU trailing. One more came with Indiana ahead by one, stretching the lead to three.
Galloway also added four rebounds, two assists, and a steal. The senior, as he’s done so many times in his IU career, just made winning plays.
All three of IU’s returners in the starting lineup stepped up in big moments.
“We have the time spent here the longest, and we know what it takes to win at the highest level,” Galloway said of his, Reneau’s, and Johnson’s efforts. “I think just pulling guys along and knowing that it’s not going to be easy like it was tonight. That’s the big thing for us really, just focus on the task at hand, one possession at a time, and try to fight for the win.”
IU had some notable performances tonight from newcomers as well. Sophomore center Kel’el Ware posted a double-double in his first official game after transferring to IU, and he showed off his ability to alter shots in the paint defensively with his length. And freshman guard Gabe Cupps performed admirably, with 12 energetic second-half minutes that provided a steadying defensive presence.
And the aforementioned veterans weren’t perfect. Johnson and Reneau both went 3 for 6 at the free-throw line, as foul shooting was an issue for IU throughout the game. And Johnson, Reneau, and Galloway combined for seven of Indiana’s 11 turnovers.
But when the Hoosiers desperately needed someone to step up and make some plays, facing a real threat on opening night, their three main returners rose to the occasion.