Before hitting the road for IU’s first road game of the season, Tom Crean met with the media on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the matchup against Boston College in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Watch and listen to what Crean had to say in the embedded media player below, courtesy of IU Athletics:
BLOOMINGTON — I’m sitting here in front of my computer, and trying to figure out what to write, and it is next to impossible.
We could touch on Tom Pritchard’s impressive day (Five blocks? Dang.), or Maurice Creek’s return to the top of the scoring charts (19), or the improved turnover numbers (just three in the second half). All would be acceptable, and easy to write, but we’re looking for more penetrating insight here.
So this will probably disappoint: Indiana is just a normal team, with some handy strengths.
The Hoosiers are now 4-0, with four wins that, overall, felt rather comfortable. Evansville took Indiana out of its offense Sunday afternoon, and the Hoosiers battled first-half foul trouble. But as it has thus far, the defense showed up, sparking a 22-0 run in the second half that kept the Aces at arms length the rest of the day.
Creek’s day was important, both in the moment (a run of 3-pointers early in the second half was the catalyst for Indiana’s run) and obviously, in the larger conversation about this season. It’s one half in eight, but glimpses of the old Creek will make for a happy Hoosier Thanksgiving.
Tom Pritchard’s haters aside, the big man had hands-down his best game Sunday, scoring eight with eight rebounds and five blocks. More than that, he played the entire second half with three fouls already on his line, and never committed another.
Verdell Jones rallied from a five-point, seven-turnover outing last Tuesday to score 18. He turned the ball over a team high-but-much-more-palatable four times.
If these storylines seem unexciting to you, it’s only because they are. And that’s sort of the point.
BLOOMINGTON — Let it be pointed out that, on the night Tom Crean cemented his first-ever 3-0 start at Indiana, his team struggled.
The Hoosiers shot barely over 38 percent, Verdell Jones had more turnovers (7) than points (5) and Will Sheehey, of all people, starred. And for the briefest of moments, Indiana looked troubled, but it didn’t last.
This team is starting to build some constants, expected results upon which it can depend.
The defense continues to impress. Tuesday night, Indiana forced 23 turnovers and, while it also committed 17, won the points-off-turnovers battle 32-9. Mississippi Valley State shot just 34 percent overall and hit 7-of-21 threes, after shooting 10-of-17 in a near-upset against Georgia.
More than that, however — and as it has done in significant stretches this season — the Hoosiers’ defense covered when their offense was flagging. On a night where Christian Watford, Verdell Jones and Maurice Creek combined to shoot 9-of-31, their team rarely looked troubled, particularly in a dominant early second half.
Coming out of the break up just four, the Hoosiers limited their guests to just three points over the second half’s first 9 1/2 minutes, all while a 27-23 lead ballooned to 49-26.
“You’ve got to play through offensive lulls. You’ve got to play through bad offensive nights,” Crean said afterward. “To come out and play great team defense, to come out and get better defensively as the game goes on … that’s maturity.”
Watford also continues to be a rock. He still looks unsure of himself at times, growing into his new role operating along the wings and perimeter, but he hasn’t scored less than 17 points in any game — after a wildly impressive preseason — and is averaging eight rebounds per contest. Simply, he’s a kind of player Crean has never had at Indiana.
Comments from head coach Tom Crean following IU’s 71-54 win over Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall. The comments are from Crean’s postgame radio interview with Don Fischer:
On the win:
“It was really was (a good win), especially on the defensive end. They got off to a good start and our guys just held in there. And that’s one of those games that a year ago, we could have been down 10 or 12 at halftime, the way we were missing shots. But we just kept guarding and when you look at the last 45 seconds of the first half to the 10:15 mark of the second half, we were on a 27-3 run. And that’s really, really, really good defense. We had 44 deflections on the night. We won the field goal percentage defense battle, we won the rebounding battle, we won the points off of turnovers battle and that’s the kind of stuff we have to do to be successful.”
On being able to hold Mississippi Valley State scoreless for such a long stretch:
“That says a lot about our team because we have a ways to go on the offensive end as far as the synergy of playing together and working things out. And they were a good team, I don’t think we were wrong on that at all. But the bottom line was the guys really, really followed the scouting report and they knew it began and ended with defense and rebounding. And those are the things that are really big for us. I think something I’ve never seen, Victor Oladipo was plus 30 on the plus-minus tonight and only played 15 minutes. That says a lot. We had a lot of guys that were real high. Jeremiah Rivers, again, at plus 11. Bobby Capobianco and Christian plus 14, Jordan Hulls plus 11, Verdell plus 10. But for Victor to be plus 30, my goodness, that’s excellent.”
On the three things the team can control each night:
“The thing that was said in the pregame. No matter how we play or no matter what the style of play is that we’re facing, three things we have to control every night. Number one, we have to control our attitude. We have to control our mindset. And we have to control our unselfishness. And I thought we did a pretty good job in all three of those areas.”
BLOOMINGTON — Some of the old weaknesses remain. Surely, you remember them: the endless string of frustrations, the turnovers and sloppy offensive sets and lack of low-post production.
It helped that no one seemed interested in defending Verdell Jones within five feet of the basket, from his first point to his 27th. And it helped that Christian Watford got more assertive offensively in the second half, taking over during a particularly offense-deprived stretch when IU sorely needed some points.
But what does it say about this team that the fouls (24) can pile up, turnovers can still drag opponents back into games and Indiana is still capable of long scoring droughts (6:53 in the middle of the second half) and yet is still capable of winning by 23 points when the pre-game line hovered around 5.5?
“It just gives us an identity. We’re a defensive team,” Watford said afterward. “We understand that, and we’re willing to work at that.”
Identity … at Indiana … imagine that. Defensive identity to boot. This from the Indiana team that actually gave up as many points last year to Bo Ryan’s perfect-for-the-Big Ten offense in Madison as its football brethren did on Saturday. (A cheap shot, but an illustrative one.)
Indiana closed down Wright State. Outside of a brief bout of offensive success to start the game, the Raiders were smothered. At the first TV timeout, Wright State led 7-4, with a 3-of-5 shooting line. It scored 37 points, and shot a miserable 12-of-41 over the game’s remaining 35:51. The 19 points Wright State scored in the first half marked the lowest number for any opponent in the Crean era.
Not bad, eh?
“We’ve just got to cut down on our turnovers and stuff like that,” Watford added to the end of the aforementioned comment. “We’ll be OK.”
So it’s not all sunshine and light. And I acknowledge that Wright State doesn’t present the challenge of Kentucky, or of Boston College, or even of Penn State. (Maybe of Iowa. Rough night for the Hawkeyes.)