For IU, the first regular season game against Bryant on Friday night started much as the team’s exhibition game against Indiana Wesleyan.
Wearing injured teammate Derek Elston's number, senior forward Christian Watford set a career high with 15 rebounds Friday night.
The Hoosiers were slow to start at Assembly Hall, allowing Bryant to lead early, just as Wesleyan did, and the Bulldogs held a 15-14 lead with just more than 11 minutes left in the first half.
Then, however, everything started changing for IU. From that moment, the Hoosiers went on a 20-4 run that resulted in them leading 34-19 with 4:33 left until halftime. The trend didn’t change much from there, as No. 1 IU (1-0) started its season with a 97-54 victory.
A large part of the difference was true freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who again displayed a variety of skill sets Friday night. At times, he was looking to pass first, whether it was kicking it out to sophomore guard Remy Abell for a three-pointer or twisting a pass down low to sophomore forward Cody Zeller. At other times, Ferrell was able to create his own shot or draw a foul.
"It didn't surprise me too much," Zeller said of Ferrell's success. "I've been practicing and playing with him for a couple years now. That's how he plays."
Zeller proved impossible for 6-foot-8 forward Vlad Kondratev or any other Bulldogs (0-1) to defend, and Zeller led all scorers with 18, adding 10 rebounds.
Another key to IU’s ability to compete inside was the play of senior forward Christian Watford, who set a career high in rebounds with 15, and was the last IU starter in the game, leading the team with 29 minutes.
IU head coach Tom Crean tried a number of different combinations down low, involving players from junior Jeff Howard to true freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell. At times, Hollowell and Watford were the two big men on the court, accompanied by a trio of guards. Even in this situation, IU appeared to have the advantage, and eventually won the overall rebound battle, 41-26.
“Obviously, we’ve got to defend and rebound to be successful this year," Zeller said. "I thought we did fairly well throughout the game tonight, but there’s certain plays here and there that we’ve got to get better.”
They will only have a couple days to figure out what they need to improve on and work to improve, as the Hoosiers take on North Dakota State on Monday.
The game tips off at 7 p.m., and Zeller and his teammates are ready to get back to work.
“We’ll be right back at it tomorrow," Zeller said. "I’m sure coach will find quite a few things that we did wrong.”