BOZICH: Balanced Indiana Avoids Letdown, Bounces Nebraska, 76-47
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Before this college basketball season began, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean hung a sign inside IU's practice facility. This is what the sign said:
"The difference between a No. 1 seed and a No. 4 seed was five points."
Crean was talking about the Hoosiers losing several close games last season and starting the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a four-seed. One of those games?
Nebraska 70, Indiana 69.
After Indiana dispatched Ohio State in Columbus by 13 points Sunday to retain the nation's Number One ranking, Crean had to at least wonder about a letdown against a Nebraska team that had lost eight of its first 11 Big Ten games.
Although the Hoosiers started slowly, they overpowered Nebraska over the last 25 minutes and delivered a 76-47 victory, IU's second-largest conference victory this season. Crean's team showed that it could play slow -- or that it could play fast while improving its record to 22-3, 10-2 in the Big Ten.
"This was a great thing," Crean said. "We had 27 points at half, yet we end up with 76 and we win the game by 29. I don't even want to call it a workman-like effort … The momentum was up for grabs at halftime and they grabbed it. And they didn't let it go."
SLUMP BUSTER: Remember when former Eastern High School star Remy Abell started this season by making his first five three-point field goal attempts?
The shots have not been falling for Abell as consistently these days. He missed his first three pointer in the first half and had missed his last six three-point attempts.
All that ended for Abell about seven minutes into the second half. He made a three-pointer from the right baseline. He also slapped away a steal, drove for a layup, drew a foul and made a free throw. Abell finished with six points, which is more than he had scored in the Hoosiers' last three games.
SENIOR LEADER: Christian Watford is finishing his fourth season as a starter for Crean – and he's playing his best basketball. Watford had 13 points and 11 rebounds. He has averaged nearly 15 points and 9 rebounds over IU's last four games. Indiana is at its best when Watford is assertive.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence," teammate Will Sheehey said. "I think it's coming off of his defensive rebounding. You get a couple of boards. You get a couple of assists. You get a good feel for the game from the start."
GOOD HANDS PEOPLE: Crean said he has stressed eliminating turnovers with his players. Indiana only turned it over nine times against the Cornhuskers. It was the second time in five games IU has committed fewer than 10 turnovers. Crean said his players are finally beginning to grasp the value of not being careless with the basketball.
"When we don't turn it over, we're an eye-popping 1.47 points per possession," Crean said. "That's unbelievable."
ENERGY GUYS: Indiana's energy picked up when Crean went to a smaller lineup in the first half. His hand was forced after Cody Zeller was whistled for his second foul. He moved Watford to the middle, employed four guys 6 feet 6 or shorter and pressed full-court.
The lineup spread the floor effectively, and IU started making three-point shots. They finished eight of 16 from the three-point line, the seventh time this season Crean's team has shot 50 percent or better.
"There's a direct correlation between how well we're playing on defense and how we're playing on offense," Sheehey said. "If we get stops, we're going to score on the other end."
ZELLER DELIVERS: Zeller was called for two fouls in the first half and another less than three minutes into the second half. He missed his first three shots and didn't score a basket over the first 30 minutes. Zeller had scored 24 points against Ohio State Sunday and had been in double figures over IU's last five games.
By game's end it was another solid performance from Zeller. He finished with 16 points.
BEAUTY OF BALANCE: Six Indiana players scored at least eight points. Seven Hoosiers made at least one three-point shot. Six guys had one or more assists. Nobody had more than three fouls. They also limited Nebraska to three assists. That final stat impressed Crean.
HUSKERS' HYPE: Nebraska basketball doesn't bring much on the thrill meter. Instead of the usual 800-to-1,000 students lined up several hours before the game, there were fewer than 100 students in line outside Assembly Hall 90 minutes before tip. For the first time during the Big Ten season, there were empty seats in the balconies.
Bob Hammel, the retired sports editor of the Bloomington paper and historian of IU basketball, said Nebraska brought fewer fans to Assembly Hall than any Big Ten team he could remember. At least a dozen seats went unfilled behind the Nebraska bench.
THE NEXT MILESTONE: Crean only won six games during his first season at Indiana while beginning the push to clean up Kelvin Sampson's mess. The Hoosiers' victory total only jumped to 10 the next season and then a dozen in year three. He delivered his first winning season in year four.
Check his record now. After starting 28-66, Crean has climbed back to within one game of .500, winning 77, losing 78.
QUOTING CREAN: "We're not trying to set records. We're trying to win a national championship. They are certain things that we'd really like to do defensively and offensively. I don't know if they'll be records but they'll be things that can really make us better. But at the end of the day if you really want to be big, you've got to be able to be able to play a lot of different ways."
QUOTING MAURICE CREEK: "It's just practice. We work (on shooting) every day. When we work on that in practice, we get better and better every day."
UP NEXT: They're calling it Rivalry Week. At Indiana, that means one thing – Purdue. The Boilermakers visit Assembly Hall Saturday at 2 p.m. Indiana defeated Matt Painter's team, 97-60, in West Lafayette on Jan. 30. Indiana travels to Michigan State next Tuesday. Both games will be televised by ESPN.
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