BOZICH | Indiana soars toward Maui by bouncing Creighton - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Indiana soars toward Maui by bouncing Creighton

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Senior Yogi Ferrell (left) led Indiana to a 3-0 start with a victory over Creighton Thursday. (IU photo) Senior Yogi Ferrell (left) led Indiana to a 3-0 start with a victory over Creighton Thursday. (IU photo)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Occasionally, the story about the Indiana University basketball team is not about the popularity of the coach, recruiting hits (De’Ron Davis) or misses (Bruce Brown) or the $40 million renovation of Assembly Hall.

The story is about what a remarkable basketball season it could be in Bloomington this winter. Thursday night was one of those nights.

The Hoosiers welcomed Creighton for the Gavitt Tipoff and then treated the Blue Jays like Omaha Central High School, not a middle of the pack team from the Big East.

Make it Indiana 86, Creighton 65 in a game that was essentially decided in the first 15 minutes. The Blue Jays could not defend the Hoosiers, but they won’t be the last team to leave with that lament.

Tom Crean’s team has justified its No. 14 ranking by winning two exhibition games as well as its first three games of the regular-season -- and the only team to come within 20 points of IU in those five games is Bellarmine. Take a bow, Scott Davenport.

“Indiana is a really good basketball team,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They’ve got a lot of pieces.”

The Hoosiers surged ahead by 20 with more than three minutes to play in the first half, generating offense from multiple positions, especially guard and center. They’ve made at least nine three-point shots in all three games, and they’re still learning how to play with a legitimate scorer in the low post.

Credit James Blackmon with 19, a result of his ability to make four three-points. Yogi Ferrell threatened to pursue a triple-double, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Then there was Thomas Bryant, Indiana's freshman center.

“The lion came out of me,” Bryant said.

Bryant is the recruit that Crean pursued and then signed after he lost Trinity High School center Raymond Spalding to Louisville. Bryant delivered a career high in points (17), blocks (4) and standing ovations (3).

He’s the early leader as the crowd favorite, especially from the student section. He already has more career three-point field goals than Cody Zeller (1-0). Bryant has made all 15 of his two-point field goal attempts in three games.

What is the root of that energy?

“I wasn’t the most talented player (as a child) so I had to do something to separate myself,” Bryant said.

“I’m kind of a laid-back type of guy,” Blackmon said. “When I see (Thomas) playing like that it makes me want to play with more energy … Thomas is an easy guy to play with.”

Indiana plays like a team that is double-parked in a fire zone.  The Hoosiers can score. Offense has been their specialty for the last five seasons, but this team might have as much offensive sizzle as the Zeller/Victor Oladipo team that was ranked Number One for part of the 2013 season.

Against Creighton, the Hoosiers made 50 percent of their shots, without having one of those nights when they ran off 14 straight field goals the way they did against Austin Peay Monday.

“I just feel like everybody on our team can shoot and score,” Blackmon said.

Crean has shooters. Blackmon and Nick Zeisloft each made 4 of 6 three-pointers. Blackmon has made 55 percent (11 of 20) of his shots from distance while Zeisloft  has topped that at 64.3 (9 of 14).

This is not a deep team, at least across the frontline. The Hoosiers are somewhat dinged. Bryant arrived at Assembly Hall wearing a boot on his left foot, and played with his right wrist taped.

Zeisloft dislocated the little finger on his right (shooting) hand against Austin Peay Monday. Max Bielfeldt, a senior forward, played with tape on his right wrist.

What appears to be different about this team is the Hoosiers have more inside/outside balance, something they’ll need to survive in the Big Ten. Five guys (add Troy Williams and Zeisloft to the list) scored at least a dozen points.

Bryant is the primary reason. He’s a big man with solid footwork and reliable hands, which makes him an improvement over the departed Hanner Mosquera-Perea in two important categories.

“He adds another dimension to them that I do not think they had last year,” McDermott said. “He has the ability to protect the trim, he can make some plays in the paint and he even hit a three tonight.”

Bryant appears to know where he can be effective on the court. He gets to his spot with urgency. He claps his hands to demand the basketball. He showed an ability to pivot and pin a defender on his back.

Confidence is not an issue for Bryant. He trusts his jump shot, trusts it enough that he attempted four three-point field goals. When the second three went in, Bryant became the eighth Indiana player to make a three-pointer in three games.

“I’m a person who will always bring it, will always have that passion no matter what,” Bryant said.

Don’t expect Crean to encourage Bryant to average four three-point attempts per game. That’s the work for his perimeter guys.

“The good news is that he can get better,” Crean said. “He’s comfortable with his shooting. Maybe a little too comfortable. We’re on good path with him.”

The path now includes several long flights. It’s quick turnaround for the Hoosiers. The players had to report back to Assembly Hall for a 4:30 a.m. bus trip to Indianapolis, where they began their journey (on two commercial flights) for the Maui Invitational.

They’ll play Wake Forest Monday at 5 p.m. (EST). If they win, they’re likely to face Vanderbilt. Waiting in the opposite bracket is Kansas, the tournament favorite, as well as UCLA, coached by former IU all-American Steve Alford.

“We’ll be playing top competition,” Blackmon said.

Three more games that will be more intriguing than the drama that usually surrounds the Indiana program.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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