The Good Hoosiers showed up tonight in Bloomington. After the Bad Hoosiers lacked any sense of urgency in Columbus earlier this week, IU was a completely different squad this evening. They played like they wanted to win, like they deserved to win.
Perhaps this is just what we’re in for this season: a bit of deer-in-the-headlights-what-are-we-doing play on the road, while on its home court, Indiana plays with the utmost confidence. If the Hoosiers can give this kind of effort inside Assembly Hall every time out, they’ll be in most, if not all, of their home contests.
IU rattled off 41 points in the first half, and looked like a team on a mission. They were executing at both ends of the floor. One thing I want to point out during that impressive first 20 minutes: there’s a reason Jordan Hulls is starting alongside Jeremiah Rivers in the backcourt: his spot-up shooting ability. When Rivers is at his best on the dribble-drive and can draw help defense, Hulls stays at home on the wing or corner and has enough spacing to elevate and hit the three. And Rivers is athletic enough to take it all the way to the hole as well.
Devan Dumes certainly could make headlines last season. No, they weren’t always the kind you cut out and pin up at your desk, (or were they?) but Dumes’ confidence at least made for some memorable moments in a season mostly devoid of them.
So where did he go?
Last season’s leading scorer, it made sense when Dumes’ numbers came down in 2009 with the influx of fresh talent. And an injury to begin the season kept him from fighting for a starting place and visibly hindered his ability to get into an offensive rhythm once he was healthy.
But Dumes, who averaged 12.7 points per game last season, has seen that average fall by more than half, and his minutes-per-game average has been reduced almost as much. Worse, Dumes has lost nearly nine points off his overall field-goal percentage from last season to this one, and his 3-point shooting is down from 38.1 percent to 32.6 percent through 14 games.
Of course, none of this looked like more than an unexplained anomaly until Maurice Creek was lost for the season, cutting more than 16 points and the Hoosiers’ best offensive option out of the gameplan. And yet, in the two games since Creek’s injury, that open starting spot has gone to Jordan Hulls, not Dumes.
Oh baby, what a win. With Mo Creek out for the season, and Indiana fans a bit down, a bit defeated, IU proved this afternoon inside Assembly Hall that your leading scorer does not an entire team make. Sure, Michigan isn’t that great a squad right now, and some dumb fouling kept Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims off the court for some time, but when Harris was in the game, Jeremiah Rivers did a good job keeping him in check.
Devan Dumes filled in great for Creek in the first half, hitting 3-of-5 threes for nine points, and flashing some defense as well. He was a big reason IU lead at half. Jay Bilas had the line of the afternoon when giving Dumes props for his first-half performance: “Sometimes a kid just needs to be needed.” Incredibly fitting for a player like Dumes.
And then there was everyone else filling in their roles as well: Verdell Jones continues to be a rock, and hit some big shots in both halves when IU needed them. He finished the game with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He played with purpose. He wanted this game. Bad. And Watford was right there with him, as he went 7-for-12 for 19 points this afternoon. If those two, along with Dumes can continue to lead the way on offense with guys like Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Rivers picking their spots and contributing as well, IU might be OK.
Hmmm, where to begin. Let’s take some baby steps here. Save for the last few minutes where it all unraveled, Indiana hung right with Maryland, and during several stretches, outplayed and outworked the Terrapins – a tournament team last season. A team that was ranked earlier this year. IU had a lead with 9:44 to go. It led for a good stretch in the first half. As much as we want expectations to be higher and wins to be a result, at this juncture in the season it’s progress.
The Puerto Rico incarnation of these Hoosiers likely doesn’t keep it this close for this long, or look as poised and as polished as IU did for stretches tonight.
About the only other thing I want to point out here is one key difference this year as opposed to last, and that’s IU actually having viable options off the bench. When Jeremiah Rivers went down with his injury early in the first half after that nifty layup– I worry his trashing style of play might lead to more scary moments like that later in the season — Jordan Hulls filled in without skipping a beat. He hit a three, and had a dazzling no-look pass to Christian Watford under the bucket. Watford scored, was fouled and hit the free throw. Having two capable point guards will be huge as the season progresses. Derek Elston also showed some spark off the bench, too. He didn’t have a good shooting night, but he had nine boards in 20 minutes. He continues to make the most out of his time on the court.
THE BAD: LOOOOONG SCORING DROUGHTS.
IU still seems to be figuring things out in the half court. When they got out in transition in the first half, they made some heady decisions. But when they were forced into half-court sets, there still seems to be a lot of indecision, and it’s clear this is still a facet of the their game that’s a work in progress. However, there was good ball movement in stretches.