Indiana vs. UConn: Against the national champions, Hoosiers were a clear second best

Indianapolis Star

NEW YORK – Comfortably beaten in the first game of the on Sunday, fell 77-57 to defending national champions . Here are three reasons why:

Foul trouble

Indiana struggled early and often with the whistle Sunday, the Hoosiers whistled for 11 fouls in the opening frame. Two players ended the first half with two fouls, and a third, Xavier Johnson, picked up three.

That gave UConn plenty of free throw chances during the ragged middle of the half, when neither team could find its shooting boots and the balance of the game swung back and forth. The Huskies (4-0) used the stripe to build and then maintain their lead, augmenting their success there with a 9-0 advantage in second-chance points.

By the break, IU had managed to even things slightly, just minus-three in points off free throws. But those early freebies gave UConn a foundation to build upon, and the lead for more than 17 of the first half’s 20 minutes.

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Nov 19, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Hoosiers center Kel'el Ware (1) dribbles against Connecticut Huskies center Donovan Clingan (32) during the first half at Madison Square Garden.
Ugly offense

Whatever the final score suggested, for long stretches Sunday, Indiana defended demonstrably better — particularly given the leap in athleticism at the other end of the floor — than it had in its past two games.

Issues closing possessions plagued them against UConn’s length, but problems with penetration, switches and communication present in three closer-than-they-should-have-been home wins didn’t travel to New York for this game.

The Hoosiers’ (3-1) problems came at the other end. They struggled to contend with that length. They yet again could not consistently weaponize the 3-point line. Malik Reneau (18 points, three rebounds) gave Alex Karaban fits in single coverage, but he wound up the Hoosiers’ first foul casualty into the second-half under-8 timeout.

Without a consistent perimeter scoring threat, halfcourt offense became too much of a slog. UConn found enough shots to keep the game comfortably in hand.

Lessons to learn

The final score seems harsh, on the balance of play. Indiana played hard and well enough to deserve more than to be blown out Sunday at the Garden.

But the Hoosiers also fell in that curious middle ground in games like this, where they could not really claim they deserved to win either. Against the national champions, they were a clear second best, trialing for all but 82 seconds of Sunday’s game.

There was clear improvement from some aspects of the ugliness that plagued them in their three home wins. But there was also a discernible gap between them and one of college basketball’s top-line teams. Whatever happens Monday, IU must come home from New York with a clear-eyed understanding of how far it still has to travel.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.