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Malik Reneau walks up the court during Indiana's loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 19, 2024. (HN photo/Danielle Stockwell)
Malik Reneau walks up the court during Indiana's loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 19, 2024. (HN photo/Danielle Stockwell)

'Disconnected' Indiana team continues to struggle in loss to Wisconsin

Two frontcourt players stepped up in Kel'el Ware's absence, but IU couldn't stay out of its own way in the defeat

MADISON, Wisc. – Indiana (12-7, 4-4) extended its 24-year losing streak at the Kohl Center, suffering its third true road loss of the season at the hands of the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (14-4, 6-1) on Friday night, with a final score of 91-79.  

It was a loss that many in the fanbase saw as the worst of the season, or perhaps quite possibly one of the worst in years. 

But many of Indiana’s woes came before the game. It was at 3:30 p.m. when it was announced that starting center Kel’el Ware would be questionable for Friday night’s matchup. It was 7:10 p.m. when Ware walked out of the locker room with a walking boot on his right foot, dressed in street clothes. 

In one of their biggest matchups of the season, Indiana would be without their key 7-foot center. 

“[Kel’el] went down in practice, came down on somebody’s foot and turned his ankle and it blew up on us,” head coach Mike Woodson stated postgame. “I thought Payton [Sparks] played an excellent game. For a guy who hadn’t played very many minutes, I thought he was one of the positive signs today.” 

Getting the nod for his second career start in an Indiana uniform, Sparks contributed seven points, two rebounds, two steals and one block. 

However, Sparks completed his night early, fouling out of the game with just under three minutes left on the clock. Once again, it reminded those watching of Indiana’s consistent fouling troubles this season. 

Payton Sparks dunks during Indiana's loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 19, 2024. (HN photo/Danielle Stockwell)

This came after Indiana guard CJ Gunn got called for a Flagrant 2 foul, after elbowing Wisconsin’s Max Klesmit in his face — which was Indiana’s fourth flagrant foul called in over the last four games. 

“You’ve got to be level-headed on the court,” Indiana forward Malik Reneau said. “You can’t just let any small thing irk you on the court and give up flagrants like that.” 

Reneau himself, however, remained level-headed on the court, and was a consistent key for the Hoosiers on Friday night. Especially in the absence of his frontcourt partner, Ware, Reneau stepped up finishing with 28 points and eight rebounds, and played for all 40 minutes of the game. 

While things may have been working in spurts for the Hoosiers offensively, particularly with Reneau, Indiana’s defense was consistently dismal. Wisconsin’s 91 points is the second-most points in a game that the Hoosiers have allowed this season, behind Indiana’s 104-76 loss to the Auburn Tigers. 

“On the road, you can’t think you’re just going to outscore teams anymore, you’ve got to play defense on the road,” Woodson said. “Ninety-one points, you’re not going to be anybody on the road.” 

Along with their persistent issues on defense and foul trouble, Reneau said there was one issue that was the most apparent for the Hoosiers in Madison — Indiana was disconnected. 

“I mean, we’ve got to figure out a way to be one on the court on the offense as well,” Reneau said. “I feel like we’re kind of disconnected in some ways, but I mean, we’re going to fix that and get it right.”

Nineteen games into the season, Indiana has not been able to find ways to consistently be one on the court just yet, especially on the road. 

Indiana will now have over a week off to take a look at its most apparent issues both on and off of the court. But their next opponent may be their biggest test of them all. 

The Hoosiers will travel to take on the No. 14 Illinois Fighting Illini (13-4, 4-2) in Champaign on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m., hoping to correct their issues and come together in their continued stretch on the road. 

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