Bloomington – It's not always going to be this easy for Indiana's freshmen.
But Friday night, it was.
Maurice Creek scored 17 points, fellow newcomers Christian Watford and Derek Elston added 14 apiece, and Jordan Hulls had a team-high five assists as Indiana pounded Howard 83-60 to win its season opener in front of 17,383 at Assembly Hall.
Creek made 7-of-11 shots on his way to his game-high in points, while Watford added a game-high 11 rebounds for a double-double. Elston, meanwhile, came off the bench and made his first six shots – including a pair of 3-pointers – before missing his first and only shot in the closing minutes.
That was more than enough to handle a Howard team that missed 14 of 15 3-point shots in the opening half, turned the ball over 19 times overall, and shot just 35.8 percent for the game.
After a sluggish start, the freshmen hit its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference foe with the kind of flurry that last year's team never could muster.
Indiana's 20-5 over the final seven minutes saw Creek get things started with a 3-pointer to give IU a 23-18 lead. Moments later Elston showed off his versatility, driving and spinning for a layup on one possession, then raining in a 3-pointer from the top of the key on the next. Watford then finished the run off with a 3-pointer from the top of the key as well, giving the Hoosiers a 40-23 halftime lead.
"There was some deer in the headlights type of action early in the first half," Crean said of Indiana's slow start. "But we settled in and eventually we became very effective defensively, got the break going and able to blow the game open in the first half. Then we came out and played even harder in the second half."
Indiana opened the second half with an 18-6 run, and once again it was the freshmen that played a major role. Creek got things started with a fastbreak dunk following a Verdell Jones steal, while Watford and Elston capped the burst with a 3-pointer apiece as the lead ballooned to 29, 58-29, with 14:26 left.
Indiana played all 16 players on the roster, including 12 in the first half. No one played more than 26 minutes, and Crean said that depth played a big part in IU's big runs at the end of the first half and the start of the second.
"The fact we played a lot of guys and we were fresh….if you have fresh bodies and they're active and getting it done, you can get it going a little bit," Crean said.
Indiana also got 10 points and five rebounds from sophomore Tom Pritchard, nine points from Jones and a solid seven-point, three-assist effort from a recovering Devan Dumes, but it was clearly the night of the newcomers. All six of the Hoosiers' rookies played, combining for 49 of Indiana's 83 points, 19 of the 36 rebounds.
That's the way it's going to be a lot this season, which is why Crean says he doesn't think of his players according to what year they are in school. He can't afford to do that.
"We know they're freshmen, we have to keep it in perspective that they're freshmen, but we're not trying to treat them like that on the court," Crean said. "We're really asking a lot of them."
Crean did that Friday, and he figures to continue to do it as the season wears on. While there figure to be ups and downs as the season unfolds due to that inexperience, those newcomers say the "freshman" label isn't one that they'll ever use as an excuse. After all, they haven't been able to use it as a crutch ever since they arrived on campus.
"We've never been treated like freshmen coming in," said Watford. "In order for us to win, we realize we can't be treated like freshmen."
Watford 4-6 5-5 14, Pritchard 5-6 0-0 10, Creek 7-11 1-2 17, Rivers 2-8 2-2 6, Jones 4-12 0-0 9, Barnett 0-0 0-0 0, Hulls 1-2 0-0 2, Finkelmeier 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Muniru 1-1 0-2 2, Capobianco 0-2 0-0 0, Gambles 0-0 0-0 0, Roth 1-1 0-0 2, Elston 6-7 0-0 14, Dumes 3-5 0-2 7, Jobe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-61 8-13 83.
Phillips 2-5 4-6 8, Kirkpatrick 1-3 2-5 4, White 3-7 2-2 10, Thompson 5-9 3-4 13, Riley 3-10 1-3 8, Mukole 0-3 1-2 1, Dickerson 2-5 0-0 5, Walker 2-4 3-4 7, Braimbridge 0-1 0-0 0, Johnson 0-3 2-4 2, Collins 0-1 0-0 0, Lawrence 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-53 18-30 60.
3-Pointers: Indiana 7-14 (Creek 2-4, Elston 2-2, Watford 1-1, Jones 1-3, Dumes 1-3, Capobianco 0-1), Howard 4-22 (White 2-6, Dickerson 1-2, Riley 1-7, Thompson 0-1, Mukole 0-1, Braimbridge 0-1, Johnson 0-2, Collins 0-1, Lawrence 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 36 (Watford 11), Howard 34 (Phillips 9). Assists: Indiana 20 (Hulls 5), Howard 8 (Thompson 2). Turnovers: Indiana 16, Howard 19. Blocks: Indiana 6 (Watford, Pritchard, Creek, Rivers, Jones, Muniru), Howard 1 (White). Steals: Indiana 7, Howard 6. Officials: Side Rodeheffer, Dwayne Gladden, David Gentile. Attendance: 17,383.
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