BOZICH | Indiana beats North Carolina but might lose Anunoby - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Indiana beats North Carolina but might lose Anunoby

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Thomas Bryant brought points and energy to IU's win. Thomas Bryant brought points and energy to IU's win.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) — You don't need a front row seat like Kyle Schwarber or Fuzzy Zoeller to watch this Indiana basketball team.

You need a couch, ample refreshments and the determination to avoid snap, 140-character judgments.

A year ago Tom Crean took his team to Duke for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the critics chirped they weren't certain he would make to to December. IU gave up 94 points and lost by 20. It was Nov. 30.

A week ago Crean took his team, the defending Big Ten champs, to Fort Wayne and had a flashback moment. The Hoosiers went to the northeast part of the state to help raise money and interest for a sister school -- and took the assignment so seriously the Mastodons won.

Today there a fresh post-script about the Hoosiers: Which team has two better wins this season than Crean's 5-1 squad?


They bounced into boisterous Assembly Hall Wednesday night and bounced No. 3 North Carolina, 76-67, out no longer unbeaten. The Hoosiers did it easier than they had bounced the season's first No. 3 team, Kansas, in Hawaii on the opening night of the season. They soared from No. 19 to 13 in Ken Pomeroy's computer power formula.

"I feel like saying the same thing," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "But they were more aggressive in every phase of the game. We backed up. They challenged us and we backed up."

They shook out all the motivational pyrotechnics at IU.

Schwarber, a former IU baseball player and star on the Cubs' World Series champs, presented the game ball. James Cornelison, official singer for the Chicago Blackhawks and an IU grad, belted out the National Anthem.

Isiah Thomas, Randy Wittman and the remainder of the Hoosiers’ 1981 NCAA title team (which beat North Carolina in the title game), energized the crowd during a halftime ceremony. The crowd, 17,222, got loud 90 minutes before the tip.

Then Tom Crean’s team had to play an unbeaten North Carolina squad that ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told me might be the best team in the country.

When the game ended, it was still about 30 minutes from Dec. 1. 

On this date a year ago, Indiana lugged losses to Wake Forest and UNLV plus a 20-point loss against Duke into the final month of the year.

Not this Dec. 1. 

Indiana has two glittering credentials that will look even more substantial in March — two wins over teams that figure to be Number One seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Get this: The Hoosiers never trailed.

Credit a balanced Indiana offense. Five of Crean’s guys scored in double figures — OG Anunoby (16 points), Thomas Bryant (12), Josh Newkirk (10), James Blackmon Jr. (14) and Robert Johnson (11). The only reason for Indiana to hold its breath was a high ankle sprain than Anunoby suffered in the final four minutes. Chances are he'll miss several games. More, like the Butler game Dec.17 or the NewYear's Eve arrangement with Louisville. But games are booked for Indianapolis.

"He's in the training room," Crean said. "He couldn't have come back in the game. It's high (ankle sprain) so we'll see."

This was a game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When the Hoosiers played in this event last season even ESPN analyst Dick Vitale howled about the lack of defense Indiana played as Duke turned the game into a second-half layup line.

No howling this time. The Tar Heels had scored at least 93 points in five of their seven victories. They labored to reach 67 — and made less than 40 percent of their field goal attempts. Their starting guards, Nate Britt and Joel Berry, settled for jumpers, missing 16 of 22.

"We knew their bigs were the best in the country," Bryant said. "We knew we had our work cut out for us."

"Our guys are in a great frame of mind, but they're absolutely spent," Crean said. "They left every bit of it out there. These guys were on their second, third, fourth wind early."

The Hoosiers started the game like the team that opened the season with a victory over Kansas, not the one that made Fort Wayne a national sensation by losing to the Mastodons last week.

They made shots. They shared the basketball. They defended the rim. They raced back on defense. They took care of the basketball. They made more shots. They battled the Tar Heels even (37 each) on the glass.

"If we learned anything from last week, it's that you've got to have an edge every night because the other team does," Crean said.

Crean made an unconventional move — starting three guards (Blackmon, Newkirk and Johnson) against a North Carolina team that has been punishing opponents on the offensive glass.

It worked. 

Blackmon did not play in Indiana’s game Sunday against Mississippi Valley State. He had a tender knee from an injury he suffered in the Fort Wayne defeat.

He looked healthy against the Tar Heels, making half of his six shots from distance. Check the rebounding totals. Blackmon, only 6 feet 4 with two surgically repaired knees, led all players with nine.

"There was no question I was going to play," Blackmon said. "I was just a little bruised up."

Indiana scored the game’s first five points. They pushed the lead to nine, then 12, then 15 and finally 28-11 a little more than halfway through the first 20 minutes. Blowout? Not against this team that many believe is one of Roy Williams' best.

"We were not ready for their intensity or enthusiasm or anything you want to talk about in the first half," Williams said. "It was a wonderful crowd, Gosh, I would like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the Duke game."

North Carolina steadied after that. The Tar Heels are tall, talented and tenacious. They have three starters back from a team that lost the national championship game to Villanova last season. They rolled through the Maui Invitational last week as if the event was being played in Chapel Hill. They beat Wisconsin by 15 in the title game after thumping Oklahoma State by 42 in the semifinals.

By halftime, North Carolina sliced the Indiana lead to 41-29, although Indiana celebrated the play most likely to be re-run on SportsCenter — a remarkable one-handed catch and flush by Anunoby of a pass that was lobbed to him by Johnson.

"Honestly, I didn't think he was catch it, so it was a better dunk (than pass)," Johnson said.

In the second half, North Carolina kept grinding. They made getting the ball to massive Kennedy Meeks in the post a priority. Bryant had trouble keeping Meeks away from the rim.

Crean ditched his team’s man-to-man defense for a zone. Carolina solved it — for a dunk by Meeks — the first time the Tar Heels attacked the 2-3. Crean returned to the man-to-man.

Even when his team struggled, Williams never asked for a timeout. He trusted his veteran guys, especially Justin Jackson, a junior forward, who played to his McDonald's All-American pedigree.

He was terrific, from the perimeter and on drives as North Carolina cut the Indiana lead to 61-57. Jackson finished with 21, one of two North Carolina players in double figures.

But Indiana got a three-pointer from Blackmon, his first basket of the second half to stop the Carolina surge. With help from Anunoby and Bryant, the Hoosiers finished the victory -- against a program that ended IU's season in the Sweet Sixteen last season. Anunoby added another dunk and collected five defensive rebounds.

"The way he played tonight is what we're counting on him to do on a consistent basis," Johnson said.

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