Bloomington – Moments after Indiana put the finishing touches on a relatively easy 71-54 win over Mississippi Valley State Tuesday night, Tom Crean and his staff were convinced of one thing.
Last year's team wouldn't have done what this year's team did.
After landing itself in a quick 7-0 hole less than two minutes in, the Hoosiers regrouped to take a 27-23 halftime lead, blew the game open with an 20-3 spurt to open the second half and eventually cruised to a 17-point win over a solid MVSU squad.
As comfortable as the final margin proved to be, Crean was convinced afterwards that last year's team would have struggled after MVSU knocked down back-to-back pull-up 3s to start the game, and then extended the margin to 7-0 D'Angelo Jackson.
But instead of panicking under the early onslaught, Indiana took the game over with another dominating defensive effort.
"Almost to a man, every coach in there agreed that a year ago we would have lost this game," Crean said. "We'd have been down 10-12 at half, and our maturity level wouldn't have allowed us to win it. Our maturity level tonight had a lot to do with us winning it."
That showed itself on the defensive end, where the Hoosiers were once again dominant. IU held its foes to 34 percent shooting overall, 33.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc, and forced 23 turnovers. Indiana turned those turnovers into a huge 32-9 edge in points off turnovers, which was important on a night when Crean's team wasn't always finding things easy on offense.
"It was a grind it out game, and we did a lot of the grinding with the way we defended," Crean said.
Christian Watford was the only Hoosier in double figures, finishing with a game-high 18 points to go along with nine rebounds. But the Hoosiers got big contributions from others, most notably freshmen Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey plus sophomore point guard Jordan Hulls.
Oladipo and Sheehey both came off the bench to score nine points, helping IU to a 32-9 edge in bench points. Oladipo scored eight of his points during a 5 ½ minute second half stretch that saw the Hoosiers turn a 33-25 lead into a 49-26 laugher. Sheehey, meanwhile, saw his most extensive action of the season and finished 4-of-7 from the floor and had five rebounds in 11 minutes.
Hulls, meanwhile, did a yeoman's job against MVSU's pressure and finished with seven points, five assists and only one turnover. He also had two of the game's biggest plays – he hit a huge 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half that turned a one-point lead into a four-point cushion, giving IU the momentum and setting Crean's team up for the second half barrage. Then in the second half, he dropped a nifty behind the back pass to Oladipo for a layup that brought the entire crowd to its feet.
"That was duress that he was playing under. They were aggressive and very active," Crean said. "And if that pass to Victor doesn't make ESPN's top 10, then it was a good sports night because that was impressive."
It was also an impressive win for the Hoosiers, who improved to 3-0 for the first time during Crean's tenure.
"I don't have any doubt that as that team continues to get better this year, that will turn out to be a very good win for us against an NCAA Tournament team out of their league," Crean said.
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