It’s been the tale of two halves for Indiana the past three games. A trio of slow starts resulted in IU’s need to come from behind.
That’s a trend that certainly won’t be too pleasing to head coach Mike Woodson and Hoosiers fans. but unlike Tuesday night at Syracuse, IU was able to steal one away in the Big Ten opener Saturday against Nebraska 68-55.
Let’s just be real here. Nebraska isn’t an amazing team and certainly wouldn’t be a tournament team if the season ended today. On Saturday, it was the Indiana bench that came in and gave the team the spark it needed.
“We came out very slow…we were flat, man,” Woodson said. “And that’s the first time I’ve seen that.”
Woodson was right. Indiana was sluggish. Maybe it was the noon tip or the tired legs coming off a 2OT loss. But whatever it was, Indiana needed a change. Woodson turned to his bench and brought in Anthony Leal and Tamar Bates for Miller Kopp and Parker Stewart at the 11:26 mark in the first half. Indiana was down 10.
Leal has seen very minimal playing time this season but Saturday he provided the Hoosiers with fundamental and paced basketball.
The former Indiana Mr. Basketball zipped passes, tallied a steal and splashed a 3, giving Indiana a refresher for the last 10 minutes of the half.
“The second unit pushes the first…that’s being competitive,” Woodson said after the game.
The bench is a foundation of a team that you can rely on and turn to. You shouldn’t be afraid to turn to it. Something that every good team in college basketball has is a reliable bench.
Indiana’s bench scored 18 of the team’s 26 first half points.
It’s safe to say that this team’s bench is led by the freshman Bates. Bates led the Hoosiers in box +/- with 16 against the Cornhuskers. He was also Indiana’s second leading scorer with 13 points and shot 3-for-7 from beyond the arc.
There’s no doubt that Bates is talented and his high volume scoring is a big refresher for the starting unit.
Bates said his teammates “believe in me the same way I believe in myself.”
This belief urges Bates to continue shooting and play his game whether the shots are falling or not.
“I like everything about Tamar. That’s why he is here wearing an Indiana uniform.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) December 4, 2021
Coming off of such an emotional and taxing game in Syracuse, it’s understandable why the starters would be so drained. The turnovers continued right out of the gate with seven in the first 10 minutes and the Hoosiers shot 36 percent from the field by the end of the first half.
Leal and Bates should continue to get playing time and lead the Indiana bench. Good teams help each other pick up the pieces and that’s what Indiana did Saturday against Nebraska.
Indiana will face its first ranked opponent of the season this week as the Hoosiers hit the road to Madison to face No. 23 Wisconsin — a place where they haven’t won since Jan. 25, 1998.