Indiana men’s basketball faced one of its toughest tests of this season thus far Tuesday night.
The Hoosiers rode a three-game winning streak into Ann Arbor, Mich. for their first true road game of the season. The Wolverines aren’t the best team they’ve played — that would be UConn. But Big Ten games are tricky, especially on the road, and Michigan has talent.
And with Xavier Johnson sidelined for a second straight game, IU showed as much mettle as it has in any game through the first month of the year. In so many moments when momentum could’ve swung the other way, the Hoosiers responded with big plays. And that allowed the resilient bunch to leave Crisler Center with a 78-75 win.
“We’re a competitive team,” IU head coach Mike Woodson said after the game. “We’re playing hard. I think after that UConn game, it kind of taught us that we’ve got to play harder. They smacked us in the face, and we paid dearly for it that particular game. Since then, we’ve been playing a lot better.”
Indiana (7-1, 2-0 Big Ten) wasn’t perfect in this contest, by any means. The Hoosiers trailed by two points at halftime after committing 10 turnovers in the first half, many of which were unforced errors. IU got close to nothing offensively from Trey Galloway in that opening half, and Malik Reneau struggled on both ends.
But in the second half, things changed. The Hoosiers cleaned up the sloppy play and committed just three turnovers. And Reneau and Galloway made some of the biggest plays of the game when it mattered most.
Reneau, in particular, was huge in the second half. 11 of his team-high 15 points came after halftime, as he performed better against the double-teams Michigan (4-5, 0-1) threw at him. Woodson continued to go to the sophomore, and he delivered.
“That’s just coach Woodson trusting in me,” Reneau said. “He’s seen me do it multiple times, he trusts in me. I told coach, I said, ‘If I get on my block and I get enough time to go, I’m going to score.’ And he trusted in me, we kept going back to the block.”
Galloway endured one of the more inefficient games of his IU career, shooting 3 for 12 from the field. But the struggles clearly didn’t get to the veteran’s head. He was solid defensively for much of the night, holding Michigan standout Dug McDaniel to a similarly inefficient night (3 for 14).
And in a huge spot, with the game tied at 71 with just over 2:30 remaining, Kel’el Ware fired a pass with his back to the basket to Galloway in the opposite corner. The senior immediately spotted the open baseline drive and exploded into it, converted the layup, and drew a foul. That moment fired up IU’s bench and sent a message to his teammates that they were going to fight to the end.
Ware, meanwhile, came up with two massive plays in the final minute of the game that helped seal the deal. Woodson called timeout with 1:14 left and the game tied at 73 apiece, and he drew up a look that got Ware a 1-on-1 post-up against Tarris Reed Jr. And the sophomore put an NBA-caliber move on Reed, finishing with a sky hook to give IU the lead for good.
“We worked both sides. The ball went around. But he made a hell of a move, man, to drop that bucket in,” Woodson said. “And I thought that was the difference in us securing the win. Cause we needed a big bucket at that particular time.”
At the very end, with Michigan in-bounding with 2.2 seconds left and needing a 3-pointer to tie, Woodson had Ware guard the passer. And Ware’s long wingspan proved vital, as he blocked the ball and recovered it to kill off the final seconds.
IU got some additional juice off the bench Tuesday, as well. CJ Gunn played, arguably, his best game of the season so far. The sophomore made a few questionable decisions throughout the game, but he turned in a strong performance on both ends. Gunn’s defensive effort was noticeable, and it led to his second game of the season with four steals.
In the first half, he made his first 3-pointer in nearly a full calendar year. Gunn’s second came in an important moment, capping off a 7-0 run that saw Indiana come back to take a 60-59 lead with 7:3o to play. It was the type of shot — and overall performance — that could spark confidence heading forward into the rest of the season.
“He was great,” Woodson said of Gunn. “He made shots, but defensively, he was in tune. Very engaging on the defensive end.”
This is the type of win that can go a long way later in the Big Ten season. The Hoosiers weren’t at their absolute best, but it’s hard for them to be when Johnson is out. To come out with a gritty road win despite all of that speaks to the fortitude of these players.
That’s why this game was such a big test for Indiana. It wasn’t purely the caliber of opponent; it wasn’t the opportunity to prove how fundamentally sound it is. It was the difficulty of the circumstances, and the opportunity to prove how mentally tough it is.
On Tuesday, the Hoosiers hammered that point home.