For the last three games, many of the stories written about Indiana basketball have focused on the Hoosiers’ lack of bench production. For a team expected to be so deep in the preseason, the Hoosiers have struggled to get much offense out of players other than their starters during the Big Ten season.
And while the bench as a whole still had some problems in No. 7 Indiana’s 72-49 win over Penn State on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall, the bench’s most key member broke out of his mini-offensive slump.
Will Sheehey, who didn’t score in games against Minnesota and Wisconsin and had only six points Sunday against Northwestern, scored 12 points and made two huge 3-pointers in the first half to break Penn State’s spirit. Sheehey made 4-of-6 shots in all, including all three of his 3-pointers in 24 minutes of action.
“It was Sheehey hitting 3s,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of the game getting away from his team late in the first half. “Usually he is a good mid-range jump shooter. That team has a lot of talent and you can’t take everything away. Sheehey made two 3s and it opened everything up.”
Sheehey’s back-to-back long balls softened the Penn State zone and opened things up for other people. It was 23-14 before he made his first one. Four minutes and 30 seconds later, it was 41-19 and the rout was on.
“That’s who Will is, that’s what Will brings,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “He’s one of our best players, he really is.”
The majority of Hoosier Nation is likely talking about Sheehey’s return today. But if you ask Sheehey, he’d say he never went anywhere.
“I never think about that kind of stuff,” Sheehey said of not scoring for two straight games. “If you see me not playing hard on the defensive end, that’s when something’s wrong. It’s never gonna happen.”
Zeller scores career-low
In Tuesday afternoon’s press conferences, assistant coach Kenny Johnson unknowingly foreshadowed what was to come a day later.
“When Cody Zeller doesn’t score 20 points, people wonder what’s wrong with Cody Zeller,” he said. “But when you have five guys averaging in double figures, not everybody can score.”
Well, that was the case against Penn State, and some may be asking what is wrong with Zeller. The sophomore center had a career-low two points on 0-of-4 shooting in 21 minutes. Zeller did have eight rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, but he also turned the ball over four times.
“Cody did a lot of other things to impact the game,” said junior guard Victor Oladipo. “That’s why he’s such a great player. Just cause he doesn’t score a lot, yeah he might be having a slow night on offense, but he’s doing what it takes to win.”
Added Crean: ”They’ve got to guard him, and there are numerous people that are around him. He facilitates for others. He didn’t really look for that many opportunities to score. I’m not concerned about that, he will. He’s got constant team attention. It’s not like they assign one person and leave him alone with Cody. He may be guarded by one person, but everyone knows when he has the ball defensively and they play accordingly.”
Still, a look down the Indiana section of the box score was a little bit surprising. The Hoosiers got outstanding shooting performances from guys they normally don’t — i.e. Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell, who were a combined 6-of-7 from beyond the arc.
It certainly came as a surprise to Chambers.
“You’re playing percentages, you’re trying to take certain things away,” he said. “Your biggest concern is [Christian] Watford. And my biggest concern is Hulls. You know what Cody’s gonna do. You already know that, put it in the book. But Hulls has been a Nittany Lion killer since I took this job.”
· Strong second half: The Hoosiers have struggled in the second halves of some of their recent games, but that wasn’t a problem on Wednesday night. Indiana kept the foot on the gas and outscored Penn State 39-30 after halftime.
“It seems like everybody in the country thinks we don’t have good second halves,” Oladipo said. “That’s their opinion, that’s fine, that’s what they see. … We’re not trying to beat Penn State, we’re trying to beat everybody in the country.”
· Play defense, can’t lose?: After the win over the Nittany Lions, Crean and the Indiana players talked extensively about the importance of their effort on the defensive end. The Hoosiers allowed only 49 points, the fewest they’ve allowed in the conference season to this point.
“When you play defense, when you talk, when you just have a complete defensive effort, you’re not gonna lose,” Sheehey said. “And if you do, then you’ve just got to tip your hat and say, ‘next game.’ I don’t think in our two losses that we’ve done that.”
· Crean talks Super Bowl: As you’ve probably heard, Crean’s brother-in-laws Jim (49ers) and John (Ravens) are coaching against each other in next month’s NFL Super Bowl. While Crean admitted it was cool to see both of them in the big game, he knows it won’t be easy to watch it.
“It’ll be hard,” he said. “It was really hard for Joani on Thanksgiving. That’s extremely hard. It’s not, one’s gonna win and one’s gonna lose. No, one is gonna have the most ultimate moment professionally and one is gonna be very down from the result. The thing that makes it a unique family is the one that’s on the top of the mountain that day is going to feel a lot worse for the one that isn’t.”
· Injury update: Guard Maurice Creek played for the first time since Dec. 15 on Wednesday night, but he did not score in 13 minutes. Crean said he still has not made it through a full practice. Forward Derek Elston dressed but did not play as he continues to deal with a lingering knee injury.