Indiana closed the game on a 25-3 run over the final 9:13 and beat the University of Ottawa (Can.) 82-54 in its first exhibition game Tuesday night at Assembly Hall. Here are five things you should know following IU's first game of the season:
1. SECOND-HALF SPURT: Ottawa shot an uncharaceristically low percentage all night, but the Gee Gees stuck around for more than 30 minutes. Indiana's lead fluctuated between five and 11 points for much of the game, and Ottawa looked to be a real threat when it made back-to-back 3s and cut IU's lead to 57-51 with 9:13 left to go.
But the Hoosiers responded with eight quick points to force an Ottawa timeout, and they never looked back. Indiana closed the game on a 25-3 run and wound up blowing Ottawa out of the gym. Ottawa, if you recall, beat Indiana in Canada last preseason when the Hoosiers took their foreign trip to Montreal. Much of the roster returned, though the Gee Gees were without Vikas Gill on Tuesday. Gill made 7-of-8 3s against IU last year.
"Being able to play with a lead, just like being able to come from behind, there's an art to both," Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. "We don't wanna play slow, but we don't want to make home-run type plays. We don't wanna make plays that aren't there. We did a better job of that, but frankly, it was better defense."
Now, to the question I've been getting over and over on Twitter: Were Ottawa's shooting woes caused by Indiana's defense, or by the Gee Gees' inability to make open shots?
My answer: A combination of the two. Ottawa missed a number of good looks in both halves, and star guard Mike L'Africain really, really struggled all night. The Gee Gees' leading scorer finished with only nine points on 3-of-11 shooting, and he was visibly frustrated when he failed to convert open looks.
But it would be wrong not to credit Indiana's defense, too. The Hoosiers were able to defend shooters more liberally than they did last year because of Thomas Bryant and others to erase mistakes at the basket.
"I have confidence pressuring up on guys when I know Thomas and Max got my back," said sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. "Everything's a plus when we can do that."
There were so defensive lapses, which is to be expected, but when the Hoosiers needed to get stops, they got them. And they got them in bunches, something they often struggled to do a year ago.
Ottawa shot just 31 percent from the field and 19 percent from beyond the arc (5-of-26 3-pointers). Indiana also forced 23 Ottawa turnovers.
"There's no question that we got spread out a little bit too much and had too much help, but I liked our recovery," Crean said. "They missed some open shots in the second half, and I think fatigue might have had something to do with that. But at the same time, we challenged shots. We didn't give a lot of open shots in a spacing game like that."
2. BRYANT'S DEBUT: Indiana's success or lack thereof will largely be determined by freshman Thomas Bryant this season. He looked quite capable in his first college game on Tuesday.
The former McDonald's All-American had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, as well as two blocks and a steal in 23 minutes. He scored eight quick points in the first half, but Bryant struggled to finish around the rim in the second half. He was just 5-of-16 from the field.
But much of what Bryant brings -- and can bring -- cannot be measured in the box score. His presence on the back end of the defense changes shots, and his emotion is unlike many in college basketball. When Indiana started to make its late run, Bryant was very demonstrative. He pounded his chest, yelled out loud, threw out numerous fist bumps, and made sure his entire team felt his energy. Bryant's enthusiasm is infectious in a way I think can eventually be comparable to what Victor Oladipo brought years ago. He celebrates the team rather than celebrating himself, and he only plays harder when something goes against him.
"He always plays with incredible energy and incredible heart," said newcomer Max Bielfeldt. "He was just working his butt off, going on the glass and getting those rebounds. His ability to get his own miss is really a unique, scary ability that's tough to defend.
"I love playing with Thomas. He's such a physical presence down there, and I kind of bring a physical presence in a different way. With me and him down there, it's fun to be rebounding buddies. He's definitely an easy guy to play with."
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Indiana fans are going to love Bryant, and his play and presence will largely determine Indiana's success this season.
3. BIELFELDT STARTS: Everybody always seems to care about starting lineups, but Tom Crean has made it clear that he doesn't think the way many fans do. He's regularly toyed with his rotation in past years, and that figures to be the case again this season.
On Tuesday, Crean went with this five:
- Yogi Ferrell
- James Blackmon
- Troy Williams
- Max Bielfeldt
- Thomas Bryant
Ferrell, Blackmon and Williams all started last season, and Bryant seems like a pretty safe bet as Indiana's starting five man all season. The four spot is the most up for grabs, and Bielfeldt got the first shot at starting in that spot on Tuesday. The other viable options are Collin Hartman, Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson, with Johnson moving Williams to the four. I still envision a lineup of Ferrell, Blackmon, Johnson, Williams and Bryant most often this season, but Bielfeldt looked good in his Indiana debut.
"It's so different when those two guys are in there," Blackmon Jr. said of Bielfeldt and Bryant. "It just seems like everything's carved out when I go in there to rebound."
The Michigan graduate transfer had 8 points (4-7 FG), 8 rebounds (5 offensive), four steals and a block in 19 minutes. Bielfeldt played only the trail/stretch four on Tuesday though, and I was somewhat surprised we never saw him as the post five. It's hard for me to envision Bielfeldt in the trailer role that Christian Watford played at IU, but there's no doubt Bielfeldt was an important pickup and will help the Hoosiers.
He's constantly on the glass, and nobody's taking a rebound away from him once he's got his hands on it. Bielfeldt did struggle to defend the high pick and rolls at times, but I assume he'll only get better as he learns to play on the perimeter more.
"It's going to be really important for Max to be a true quarterback," Crean said. "He doesn't have to be the babysitter or the big brother of the young guys, but he does have to be the quarterback because he's very smart. He's changing his role.
"We don't have a starting lineup. Nobody's unseated Yogi from that position, but we don't really have a starting lineup right now. All the forwards are going to have to play. There are going to be some nights, it's going to be very matchup oriented. That's really irrelevent right now."
4. HARTMAN PLAYS: I thought it was unlikely we'd see forward Collin Hartman on Tuesday night as he continues to heal from a rib injury he suffered in practice, but he returned to practice for the last two days and played 17 minutes against Ottawa. Hartman had four points (2-4 FG), two rebounds and a block, but Crean admitted he was a little rusty. Hartman will remain on a minutes limit for the time being until he is fully healthy.
5. MORE EFFICIENCY AND BALANCE: There's no doubt Indiana should have more reliable offensive options than it did a year ago, and that will be huge when things get tough during the regular season. Too often last year, Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Troy Williams were forced to take contested or low-percentage shots when games were on the line. The result was often ugly, inefficient shooting lines and a lack of offensive balance.
With more scoring options, Ferrell and Blackmon Jr. should have to carry less of the offensive burden. That was the case in the exhibition opener.
- Blackmon: 15 points (5-9 FG, 4-6 3-pointers), 6 assists
- Williams: 12 points (6-11 FG), 9 rebounds
- Bryant: 12 points (5-16 FG), 11 rebounds
- Ferrell: 11 points (3-9 FG), 5 rebounds
The shooting numbers don't all look good, but Blackmon and Ferrell had to take fewer shots and use fewer possesions than they have in the past. Will that continue when the game is on the line in the second half? We'll see.