Bloomington – It might not be the way that Tom Crean wants to play, but for one night it had to do.
Indiana's fast-paced, go until you can't go anymore style degenerated into a sometimes ugly, occasionally sluggish, grind-it-out brand of basketball Monday night as the Hoosiers beat third-year Division I program USC-Upstate 69-61 in front of 15,228 at Assembly Hall.
Indiana improved to 2-0 as it readies for its trip to Puerto Rico, while USC-Upstate dropped to 0-2.
"Welcome to my world, the wacky world of freshman and sophomore basketball," Crean said. "That's where we're at. We have a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing to do to learn to put teams away."
After threatening the 100-point barrier in its two exhibition contest and matching last year's season-high of 83 points in the season opener, Indiana didn't look like the same sort of team that attacked whenever the opportunity presented itself. The Hoosiers couldn't up the tempo most of the night and finished with only two first-half fast-break points and eight overall against a USC-Upstate team that was beaten by Nebraska by 27 in its season-opener.
The inability to speed the pace wasn't the only thing that plagued the Hoosiers. Indiana made just 16-of-30 free throws and turned the ball over 18 times. With USC-Upstate's 7'3" center Nick Schneiders patrolling the lane, Indiana's players tried to hoist a trio of early shots over him and had all of them returned.
Despite those problems, Indiana wasn't seriously threatened by its Atlantic Sun foe that committed 20 turnovers of its own. But the result certainly added evidence that Indiana's fledgling team has a long way to go before its ready to compete with some of the best teams on its schedule.
"We still have to learn to compete at a consistent level," Crean said. "The other team could care less about the returning minutes or what someone did in high school last year. We have to learn that."
That message was heard by the players as well. Christian Watford, who led Indiana with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"I learned we have a lot of work to do. We're trying to get better every day, take it step by step every day," Watford said.
Thanks to four early points and the three blocks by Schneiders the visiting Spartans jumped to a quick 9-4 lead four minutes in. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston keyed a 12-0 Indiana run that put Indiana back on top, but a 3-pointer by Upstate's Josh Chavis cut the lead to one, 24-23, with 4:05 remaining in the half.
Indiana countered with an 8-2 run to close the half to go up seven, 32-25, and extended the margin to 20 with 9:08 left in the game. But USC-Upstate whittled that lead back down to single digits in the game's final three minutes, forcing the Hoosiers to run down the shot clock on their possessions in the closing minutes to avoid allowing USC-Upstate to get even closer.
"None of us wanted to ice the game at the end, but that's what we had to do to win the game," Crean said.
USC-Upstate's late rally served as evidence to Crean's young team that it can't afford to let up no matter who the opponent.
"We learned we have to work harder," said Elston, who came off the bench to score 10 points and pull down eight rebounds. "We have to bring our all every time. Just because we're up 20, we can't think we won the game. We have to keep pushing and going."
That will certainly be the case on Thursday when IU plays Ole Miss in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The competition only gets more difficult from here, and Crean knows his team will need to learn some lesions from Monday's eight-point win.
"We're getting ready to play some high level guys in Puerto Rico," Crean said. "If we don't play with the will and fire, we'll get embarrassed."
Watford 6-10 4-6 17, Pritchard 1-1 2-2 4, Creek 5-7 2-5 14, Rivers 0-4 2-4 2, Jones 6-14 1-4 13, Hulls 1-2 1-2 4, Moore 0-0 1-2 1, Muniru 0-2 0-0 0, Capobianco 0-1 0-0 0, Roth 0-1 2-2 2, Elston 4-6 1-2 10, Dumes 1-6 0-1 2, Jobe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 16-30 69.
USC UPSTATE 61
Uzochukwu 4-7 6-8 14, Posey 3-4 2-2 8, Schneiders 2-4 2-3 6, Minus 1-5 0-0 3, Chavis 2-4 2-2 8, Gordon 3-7 2-4 8, LeGates 3-8 2-2 9, Cook 1-3 1-2 3, Rogers 1-4 0-0 2, Palkert 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 17-23 61.
3-Pointers: Indiana 5-11 (Watford 1-2, Elston 1-2, Creek 2-2, Hulls 1-1, Roth 0-1, Dumes 0-3), USC Upstate 4-15 (Chavis 2-3, LeGates 1-3, Minus 1-4, Cook 0-2, Rogers 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 39 (Watford 10), USC-Upstate 30 (Uzochukwu 5, Posey 5, Rogers 5). Assists: Indiana 11 (Rivers 5), USC-Upstate 10 (Chavis 3). Blocks: Indiana 1 (Watford), USC-Upstate 5 (Schneiders 4, Rogers 1). Turnovers: Indiana 18, USC-Upstate 20. Steals: Indiana 11, USC-Upstate 8. Officials: Curtis Shaw, Mike Kitts, John Higgins. Attendance: 15,228.
Hoosiers Sluggish in 69-61 Win Over Upstate
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