Bloomington – That wasn't an aberration that fans saw Friday night from Derek Elston.
There he was, all 6'9" of him, catching a pass from Jeremiah Rivers around the top of the key and launching an uncontested 3-point shot. Immediately after the shot left his hand the freshman took one step toward the basket, as if there was a need to chase down a carom.
There wasn't, as his 21-point rainbow dropped through to give Indiana its first double-digit lead against Howard on its way to a 23-point season opening victory.
That was the first of two 3-pointers on the night for Elston, who finished 6-of-7 from the floor on his way to 14 points. While he also showed off an ability to clean up errant misses and put them back in as well as a knack for putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, it was his 3-point marksmanship that seemed to catch Howard off guard.
"Hopefully teams (lay off me), they think because I'm big I can't do anything," Elston said. "That really helped me in high school too, where teams thought that I was big and could do anything.
"Obviously they didn't (respect my perimeter shot), and I came out hit both of them I took. If you're going to lay off me, then I'm going to shoot it."
Elston is going to shoot it not only because he wants to, but because his coach wants him to as well. Elston said last Friday morning IU Coach Tom Crean had him make five 3-pointers in a row. After he did that, Crean told him he wanted to see the Tipton, Ind., native look for that shot more often and to look to get more involved in the offense.
He did that, scoring his 14 points in just 14 minutes of action. While Elston is confident in his abilities, even he admitted to being a little surprised by his offensive flurry.
"I played a lot better than I thought I would," Elston said. "When I went in there, I was hoping to get 8-10 rebounds. When I got in there and right away I got an offensive rebound and a put back, that kind of wore off the nerves and I started playing my game."
The fact that the 3-point shot is a part of his game might have surprised some of the 17,383 in attendance Friday night, but it didn't come as a shock to his teammates who have come to know about Elston's offensive versatility.
"Ever since playing with Derek over the summer, we knew he could step outside," said fellow freshman Jordan Hulls. "That's what makes him pretty versatile and great for this team. He can do a lot of things and we're going to use that to our advantage."
While it was the 3-pointers that stood out to the casual observer Friday night, that perimeter marksmanship is just one of the things that figures to make Elston an important part of Indiana's rotation this season. He's shown an ability to score both inside and out, and his 18 total rebounds in the opener plus the two exhibition games is second only to fellow freshman Christian Watford's 26.
He does it all with an energy level that Crean thinks will only get better from here on out.
"He's got a really high motor," Crean said. "As he continues to gain confidence in practice, and now as he gains confidence in games, that motor will take off even more.
"You want to find people that are smart, you want to find people that are fast, you want to find people that are tough. If you have that motor, and you can put that motor into that equation – certainly we know there has to be a certain level of talent – but finding high motor guys, that's going to be a big part of how we turn this around, and Derek has got a very, very high motor."
Elston Has Got A Shot
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