The Hoosiers faced their first test of the young basketball season on Thursday night, and passed. Not with flying colors, but they passed, and that's important.
There are a lot of interesting things from this game, and they start with some peculiar statistics. Consider:
Indiana (3-0) fell behind by 12 points early, was outrebounded 40-27, shot 36 percent from the field while allowing SMU to shoot 57 percent, and won the game.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea played 29 minutes without a single rebound, and Indiana won.
Yogi Ferrell was 3-of-13 from the field, and Indiana won.
How? The Hoosiers made up for their deficiencies by excelling in other areas. They forced SMU into 19 turnovers while committing only seven themselves. They made 12 3-pointers and kept SMU (1-2) to only five. They got to the line 25 times to only 10 for the Mustangs.
Essentially the Hoosiers found a way to win when many statistics would point to them losing. That's impressive, and it's a good sign for a young Indiana team.
"Very good win, very impressive win for our team against a very impressive team," Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. "This was very, very good for us short term and long term. Now we want to build on it."
James Blackmon Jr. was outstanding again. He led all scorers with 26 points on five 3-pointers and seven rebounds. The freshman guard didn't commit a turnover in 35 minutes.
We expected Blackmon to dominate lesser competition early in the season, and he did. But what he did on Thursday night against a talented SMU team was special. When Indiana was struggling offensively and desperately needed a basket, Blackmon took and made contested shot after contested shot.
The kid has a maturity, a calmness about him that some college players never develop. And he's played only three collegiate games.
Beyond Blackmon, Indiana made all the plays at key moments. Mosquera-Perea, for all his shortcomings, drew a critical charge with just under eight minutes to play that turned the momentum. Ferrell made a beautiful jump pass to an open Collin Hartman in the corner, and Hartman hit a huge 3-pointer to push IU's lead to five. On IU's next possession, Nick Zeisloft buried a 3-pointer that blew the roof off Assembly Hall.
Later, Troy Williams made a smart play by bringing the ball back out on a fast break and swinging the ball. Blackmon ended up with it, and was fouled on a 3. On the ensuing possession, Ferrell nailed a corner 3 that put the game away.
"The great thing about our team, we have great shooters, and when it wasn't falling, none of our heads went down," Ferrell said. "That was the big thing for us. We know we can make shots and we're human, we're not robots. We're not going to make every single shot."
Williams and Stanford Robinson were significant factors in their first game back from suspension. Indiana struggled to get penetration early in the game, and Williams and Robinson came off the bench and immediately attacked the basket. The penetration -- and the ball movement out of it -- changed the game for the Hoosiers.
"I came in with so much anxiety because I was ready to play," Williams said. "I just came in here to fit into the system that they already made."
IU never panicked, never got frustrated, never doubted each other. We heard so much talk during the offseason about this team being much more close-knit than last year's club. Talk is nice, but the Hoosiers proved it on Thursday night. These guys truly love one another and they play unselfishly.
"They share the ball, they do a lot of good things," said SMU coach Larry Brown. "Give them credit, they were really unselfish. They play really hard. I think they are a fun team to watch."
Going forward, though, Mosquera-Perea has to play better. He flies off his feet after every shot fake and was a big defensive liability against SMU. He often looked lost on that end of the floor and somehow didn't manage to grab a single rebound.
Indiana played for extended stretches with Williams at the five, and that was encouraging. If that's how Crean has to play it at times, it can be effective. Not ideal, but effective.
The Hoosiers will have to try to make teams downsize to matchup with them instead of the other way around. For at least one night, that approach worked. But they have to get more out of Mosquera-Perea. There's no question about it.
"I think it will be game by game," Crean said as to whether he'll continue going small. "It's just putting our guys out and making sure that everybody knows when that ball moves, everybody's going to be rewarded whether we're small or whether we're medium sized. I don't think we'll get big, I guess we'll get medium sized."Indiana beats No. 22 SMU, 74-68
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