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Kel'el Ware takes a shot during Indiana's Senior Night win over Michigan State on March 10, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)
Kel'el Ware takes a shot during Indiana's Senior Night win over Michigan State on March 10, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

Kel'el Ware wills Indiana to victory over Michigan State as his hot streak continues

Ware's dominant play is coming at the right time for Indiana as the postseason approaches

Seventeen seconds remained in Sunday’s game and the score was even at 64 when Michigan State’s Malik Hall fouled Kel’el Ware in the paint. It was the right guy at the right time for the Spartans, as Ware had been 0-for-4 from the stripe before he headed to the line. 

The first shot came and went, and the score remained the same. As Ware prepared for the following shot that could give Indiana the late lead, despite an antsy Assembly Hall crowd, only one thing was going through his mind. 

“‘Just don’t think, shoot,’” Ware said postgame. “That was all I was thinking. ‘Just don’t think, shoot.’” 

Ware finished the game shooting 1-for-6 from the line, after banking the second free throw and giving Indiana the 65-64 lead with 17 seconds left in the game. From there on out, Indiana’s defense prevailed and the Hoosiers came away with the regular-season finale victory over Michigan State. 

Kel'el Ware runs up the floor as fans cheer during Indiana's Senior Night win over Michigan State on March 10, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

The win showcased many of Indiana’s strengths, but also weaknesses. 

A weakness in Indiana being plagued by injuries, as senior captain Trey Galloway had subbed out of the game with 12:54 remaining in the first half and a 20-5 lead, and entered the locker room with tears threatening to come out. 

Galloway would not return to the game and remained on the bench with ice on his knee, as Michigan State slowly crawled back into the game, up to the point of a 43-36 lead with 15 minutes left in the game. 

But then came Ware, who decided to take the game into his own hands.

Kel'el Ware goes up for a shot during Indiana's Senior Night win over Michigan State on March 10, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

“With [Trey] going down, I just felt like not even just me, but everybody on the team had to step up if we wanted to get the win,” Ware said. “I feel like that’s what we did.” 

In the second half alone, Ware scored 19 points, shooting 9-for-13. And it was Ware himself who helped drag Indiana back into the game, being the Hoosiers’ lone scorer for six minutes straight, and scoring 10 points to slightly tighten the Spartan lead to five. 

That was until Mackenzie Mgbako and Xavier Johnson drained back-to-back 3s, and Ware immediately followed with an alley-oop slam off of Anthony Leal, and the rest was history. 

After a career high-tying performance of 28 points and 12 rebounds to guide Indiana towards its fourth win in a row, Ware’s recent growth has been brought into light.

“All I can tell you guys after that first month, he’s been a totally different player,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said of Ware. “We pushed him and his teammates believe in him, and I believe in him.” 

Kel'el Ware (center) talks to teammates during Indiana's Senior Night win over Michigan State on March 10, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

Ware has scored over 20 points in three of his past four games, scoring 27 points vs. Wisconsin, 26 points at Minnesota and finishing Sunday afternoon with 28 points. Now averaging 15.7 points per game compared to 6.6 points per game for Oregon last season, Ware continues to make his mark in the conference and the sport as a whole.

Looking back to Ware when he first arrived in Bloomington to now, his growth and the impact he has made in a Hoosier uniform in less than one year is clear. But what is it that has finally seemed to click? 

“Before he got here I overheard some questions about his motor,” Johnson said postgame. “I think that was something that was well-known about him. Coach Woodson and the team has stayed on him about it, and I think that’s the reason he’s averaging what he is averaging right now, and he’s doing a hell of a job, and I think he is going to continue to be that type of guy and continue to play like that.” 

Kel'el Ware yells during Indiana's Senior Day victory over Michigan State on March 10, 2024. (HN photo/Nicholas McCarry)

Prior to Indiana’s now four-game winning streak, the Hoosiers had been stuck in a four-game losing rut. But no matter what, the fight remained the same. 

For Ware, however, who over these past seven games has averaged 20.7 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, the fight seems to have more of a meaning. Not only is Ware showing more of himself physically on the court, but also emotionally. And with his recent success, has revealed a newfound aggression. 

“Just wanting to win,” Ware said on what has led to his offensive success. “I’ve been wanting to win the whole season, but I feel like looking past it I just need to be more aggressive, and that’s what I’ve been doing on the offensive end, and just trying to help my team as much as I can on the defensive end just to come up with the end.” 

This “wanting to win” mentality will be something that Ware and the Hoosiers will look to carry over with them into the postseason, at a time where it is needed more than ever. 

And while Ware, along with Indiana, has been playing some of his best basketball in the past couple of weeks, there’s no doubt there’s a lot more left in the tank for the ones representing the candy stripes. 

“[There’s] always still more to prove,” Ware said. “I don’t feel like I’ve proven myself just yet.”

Ware and the Hoosiers will next have the chance of a lifetime to prove themselves, as the regular season comes to a close, and conference tournament play emerges. 

Indiana enters the Big Ten tournament as the No. 6 seed and will face the winner of Penn State vs. Michigan on Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern.

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