Mike Woodson irked with IU's board work: 'Hell, I can get a rebound at 65 years of age.'

Zion Brown

NEW YORK — Indiana starts a frontline with Mackenzie Mgbako (6-8), Malik Reneau (6-9) and Kel’el Ware (7-0). Despite being one of the taller teams in the country, Indiana stinks at rebounding.

In IU’s 77-57 loss to No. 4 Connecticut in the Empire Classic on Sunday, UConn doubled IU’s rebounds, 44-22. The Huskies turned their 15 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points, while the Hoosiers did not score a second-chance point.

“I thought (rebounding) was the difference in the game,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “They were the much better team aggressively, in terms of rebounding and getting after us defensively.”

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Indiana (3-1) has been outrebounded in its past two games and drew even in the rebounding battle against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 7. The Hoosiers have only won the battle of the boards once, when they outrebounded Army 29-26 on Nov. 12. All four of the Hoosiers’ opponents have tallied more offensive boards than IU.

On Sunday, Ware — Indiana’s starting center — had eight rebounds. His fellow big man Reneau had three. Not great numbers, but respectable.

None of IU’s other eight players hauled in more than a single rebound. IU has not played collectively when it’s time to end possessions. The team counts on Ware to wrestle inside for boards, but he seldom gets any assistance, leading to big nights on the glass for opponents.

“I can't have my starting guards play 26, 28 minutes and get one rebound apiece,” Woodson said on Thursday after Wright State had 14 offensive rebounds against Indiana. “That just can't happen. Hell, I can get a rebound at 65 years of age, probably stumble into one.”

Nov 19, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Connecticut Huskies center Donovan Clingan (32) and Indiana Hoosiers center Kel'el Ware (1) reach for a rebound during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Against UConn (4-0), starting point guard Xavier Johnson didn’t stumble into a rebound in his foul-riddled 14 minutes. Mgbako only got one from the small forward spot, and shooting guard Trey Galloway had one himself.

IU was a mediocre rebounding squad last year despite having Trayce Jackson-Davis, the program’s all-time leading rebounder. The team’s struggles on the glass have only worsened this year.

According to KenPom, Indiana allows opponents to get 35.3% of their own misses, 307th in the country. On the other end, the Hoosiers only collect 21.1% of their misses, 330th in the nation.

“It’s all effort. That’s all it is,” Woodson said on Sunday. “It takes a little effort to stick your nose in there where toughness is. We just gotta get our guys in there to help rebound. It was glaring tonight that we just got out-toughed, and I don’t like that. I’ve gotta figure it out.”

There’s no excuse for Indiana to rebound as poorly as it does. This team has the size, length and athleticism to physically challenge teams. When weighted by minutes played, Indiana’s average height is 79 inches (6-7), sixth in the entire country (KenPom).

IU’s inability to secure defensive boards is hindering what it does on the other end. The Hoosiers aspire to be a fastbreak team, but they only logged six fastbreak points against UConn in part because they couldn’t close possessions.

“If we can get stops and rebound the ball — we’ve gotta do a better job of that — then we can get out in transition,” Galloway said. “We’re good in halfcourt, but we’re even better in transition. So we’ve gotta find ways to gang rebound, and it’s gotta be all of us.”

UConn is an excellent rebounding team, so most of Indiana’s opponents won’t control the glass that much. But the Hoosiers have shown that they do not rebound nearly well enough to compete with the best of the best.

Indiana has a bevy of issues, but rebounding is at the top. Indiana’s poor rebounding constrains what it can do on both ends while also demoralizing the spirit of the team.

IU will play Louisville, which lost 81-80 to No. 17 Texas, in the third-place game of the Empire Classic 4:30 p.m., Monday. If IU has a similar showing on the glass, it could leave the Big Apple winless.