Indiana basketball blown out by UConn in Empire Classic. Here's what we learned Sunday

The Herald-Times

NEW YORK —  sophomore walked to the bench in tears when he fouled out on Sunday with nearly eight minutes left of a 77-57 loss. 

Whatever chances the Hoosiers had of pulling off the upset over No. 5 Connecticut left the court with him. 

Reneau was the lone source of consistent offense for IU against the defending national champs and UConn’s lead ballooned to 20 points within minutes of him walking off the floor. 

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While Indiana coach Mike Woodson berated the officials throughout the game as the foul calls piled up, his effort couldn’t do anything to help the Hoosiers make a shot. They shot 37.8% from the floor and went nearly 25 minutes between hitting 3-point shots (they were 3 of 13 overall). 

The game was close to getting out of hand in the first half when Reneau took over with nine points in a four-minute span to help cut Connecticut’s 14-point lead to 37-30 going into halftime. 

Nov 19, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Connecticut Huskies forward Alex Karaban (11) dribbles as Indiana Hoosiers forward Malik Reneau (5) defends during the first half at Madison Square Garden.

The sophomore closed out the first half with a 3-point play by powering through three defenders in the paint and went into halftime with 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting. Kel’el Ware was the only other IU player with multiple field goals. 

Xavier Johnson’s disappearing act 

Indiana starting guard Xavier Johnson was listed as questionable after (twisting his ankle) in the final minutes of a win over Wright State, but the injury wasn’t what kept him off the court on Sunday.

Johnson went to the bench with 17:49 to go in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. He checked back in midway through the half, but picked up a third foul less than 40 seconds later when he led with his elbow on a drive to the basket. 

Nov 19, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Hoosiers center Kel'el Ware (1) rebounds against Connecticut Huskies center Donovan Clingan (32) and forward Samson Johnson (35) during the first half at Madison Square Garden.

Woodson relied on true freshman Gabe Cupps in place of Johnson. Cupps has played the most minutes off the bench for the Hoosiers through the first four games, but Indiana missed Johnson’s veteran presence. 

He picked up his fourth foul with Indiana down 54-44 with 10:39 to go and didn’t even wait for the official to signal his number before he made the long walk to his bench. 

Johnson had four points (he only attempted two shots) and two turnovers.

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

Battle of the titans 

Indiana center Kel’el Ware has averaged a double-double through the first three games, but hadn’t faced anyone as big as UConn’s 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan yet this season. 

Ware worked out by the perimeter in the first half and showed off his range with a pair of 3-pointers in the first half. 

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.

The first time they faced off at the rim Ware missed an attempted alley-oop over Clingan. There was a ton of contact on the play, but no foul was called. 

It’s the type of play Ware made with ease in the previous games. 

Ware didn’t have a ton of success trying to back down Clingan in the post either, but held his own on the glass and was fouled multiple times grabbing a rebound. Ware had 11 points and eight rebounds while Clingan had 7 points and nine rebounds.

Michael Niziolek is the Indiana beat reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times. You can follow him on Twitter and read all his coverage.