When the two burger boys sat with two fouls, Purdue feasted on Indiana’s bench.
IU was trailing Purdue just 9-7 when Mackenzie Mgbako picked up a second foul at the 15:30 mark of the first half. He had scored all of Indiana’s seven points but checked out of the game and would not see the floor again for 12 minutes.
The Hoosiers were still trailing just 12-9 when Mgbako’s fellow McDonald’s All-American Kel’el Ware was hit with a second foul with 13:40 remaining. While he was struggling to limit Zach Edey’s post touches, Ware was having some success bothering Edey’s shots.
From the 13:40 mark to 3:33, both Mgbako and Ware sat on Indiana’s bench with two fouls. The three-point deficit swelled to 14 during that time, as Indiana’s offense stagnated with two of its more valuable scoring threats confined to the bench. Edey also scored 12 points in that span.
Mgbako returned to the game at 3:33, and by the time Ware came back in the game at the 2:14 mark of the first half, IU was down 43-25. Game over.
“Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako are probably going to be in the NBA,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “(If) Zach Edey gets in foul trouble and goes out, even though we have good players, you have a little bit of a drop-off. … We definitely took advantage of it. No different than Nebraska took advantage of us when Zach went out with two fouls at the end of the first half in our game with them.”
Should IU coach Mike Woodson have taken the risk and played his stars with two first half fouls?
Against a team as talented as No. 2 Purdue, the answer is an undeniable yes. Indiana’s margin for error was too slim against a team this good. The Hoosiers were nearly 10-point underdogs. Gambles had to be made.
The calculus is fairly straightforward. Take a chance, perhaps they don’t get into further foul trouble, and find out if you could have won with your best players. Or sit them on the bench, things get out of hand, and you never know what might have been.
Instead, Mgbako and Ware sat, and IU gave away any opportunity it might have had to stay in the game.
And Woodson at least partially acknowledged he’d made a mistake during the disastrous first half.
“I probably should have played, not Ware, but Mac (Mgbako) a little more even with the two fouls, but I elected not to do that,” Woodson said after an 87-66 loss to the Boilermakers.
“You know, that’s hindsight. I hate coaching that way. Or thinking back to what I should have done. But at the end of the day, you know, they played extremely well the first half.”
With his stars back on the court, IU quickly cut into a 22-point halftime deficit. The Hoosiers trailed just 58-49 with 14:36 still on the second half clock.
But against a team as good as Purdue, the mountain was too tall to climb. It was a mountain self-inflicted by leaving Mgbako and Ware on the bench.
And to make matters worse, Mgbako ended the game with only two fouls, and Ware just three.
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