Well, that one was a little closer than Hoosier fans expected, as Indiana basketball held off the Kennesaw State Owls 69-55 at Assembly Hall in the non-conference finale last week. The Hoosiers now have over a week off before they travel to Iowa City to resume conference play against Iowa.
Surely, it was a little concerning to see Indiana play the way it did in the first half. It felt like there wasn’t the energy we have seen from this team in certain games. But nevertheless, the Hoosiers managed to figure it out and pick up a double digit win against the Owls. Here are some of my other takeaways from Friday night.
Free-throw shooting has to improve
This has been one of the Achilles heels for this specific group for years now. It has mainly been a problem during Big Ten season in years past, and has cost this team some games that they definitely should have won. If this team can’t hit these shots from the charity stripe on a consistent basis, they will find themselves in the same situation as the last couple of years.
Indiana went 16-26 from the free-throw line Friday, making that 61.5%. At one point in the game, the Hoosiers were actually 1-for-5 from the free-throw line. If Indiana is going to want to win some of these big conference games, the team simply has to hit these free throws, especially early in the game.
The IU backcourt needed this performance
Yes, Xavier Johnson going down for Indiana is not what this team needed at all with Big Ten play approaching. Johnson has been a huge catalyst for IU’s offense, and is undoubtedly the leader of the Hoosier backcourt. But is it possible that Johnson’s injury could actually be beneficial for the rest of Indiana’s backcourt?
We’ve seen a couple of times IU’s backcourt step up on Johnson’s absence, and one of those instances was Friday night. Tamar Bates was spectacular, picking up 19 points and shooting an efficient 7-for-12 from the field including three makes from 3-point land. Jalen Hood-Schifino also continues to look better each game, scoring 18 points and really helped the Hoosiers pull away from the Owls in the second half. This could be the confidence that the backcourt needs as Big Ten play approaches.
What will it take for this team not to have slow starts?
We’ve seen it in all three games against Rutgers, Arizona and Kansas, where the Hoosiers start out slow and find themselves in a hole too deep to dig themselves out of. Since the Kansas game where IU lost by 22, the Hoosiers still started slow both Friday night and against Elon last Tuesday.
Now, could this have to do with IU’s top two scorers not playing? Most definitely. However, it seems like the energy and fire that this team showed in the first halves in the beginning of the year have disappeared. If the Hoosiers want to make noise in the Big Ten this year, they cannot afford these stagnant starts, especially with a road test like they will face Jan. 5 against Iowa.