Remy Abell (23) was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field Monday night, adding 14 points from the bench in an 87-61 victory.
Tom Crean’s never-quenched desire to add depth and bench production to the No. 1 team in the country continued apace Monday night, thanks to a diversely-talented freshman, and one sophomore’s newfound inability to miss.
Indiana (2-0) disposed of North Dakota State 87-61 on Monday, after a prolonged bout of offensive malaise, winning the first game of the 2012 Legends Classic. Cody Zeller, nearly undeniable in transition, posted up and facing the basket, led all scorers with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
But many the game’s crucial moments came at the hand of Indiana’s first guard off the bench, Remy Abell, who has yet to miss a shot in 35 minutes this season.
Leading 48-38 with 15:36 left in the second half — and still struggling to put the game to bed — Indiana got the jolt it needed from its sophomore ball handler.
Abell began with an offensive rebound that led, after a media timeout, to a Jeremy Hollowell layup. Two minutes later, he hit a free throw and a layup to push IU’s lead to 18, and four minutes have that, back-to-back 3-pointers put the game out of reach complete.
When he left the game after that stretch, Abell received a standing ovation from a nearly sold-out Assembly Hall. He finished the night 5-of-5 from the floor and 3-of-3 from behind the arc, all for 14 points.
“I’m just shooting with confidence, and trying to help my team win,” Abell said afterward.
Both Abell and Cody Zeller (40) said they were pleased at Indiana's ability to inflict its preferred tempo on an opponent bent on slowing the game down, not usually IU's forte.
All of that helped Indiana dispatch of an outmanned but feisty North Dakota State team picked to finish second in the Summit League this year. The Bison, who were described as Wisconsin-like by Indiana players and coaches pregame, succeeded in at least slowing Indiana down, forcing the Hoosiers to score from the half-court.
But the visitors themselves struggled shooting the ball, finishing the game at 41.1 percent from the field and just 8-of-20 from behind the arc. Stud scoring guard Taylor Braun finished with just seven points on the evening, spending most of his evening being hounded by junior guard Victor Oladipo.
“We’re gonna see everything from different teams this year. I know they’re gonna try different strategies, try to out-physical me, out-physical other guys,” said Zeller, who himself had to fight off some rather rugged defense through the evening and scored six of his 22 points from the free-throw line.
“We just have to keep our composure.”
Abell took heart in Indiana’s ability to score 87 points against a team hoping to cut the pace of the game significantly from Indiana’s preferred up-tempo approach.
“That’s something we want to learn from last year. A lot of teams want to slow it down,” Abell said. “It’s good that we can play both styles.”
But the night belonged to the back-ups, in the end.
Abell continues to build off of what teammates said was a strong summer for the physical, forceful second-year player. His jump shot appears more consistent, and his ball security has improved to the point where he is, at times, considered a primary ball handler on par with Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell.
“He’s been doing that all summer, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Zeller said.
In Hollowell, who has scored 26 points in his first two college games, Indiana appears to have added a player capable of filling multiple different positions on the floor, and of scoring in varied ways. Zeller said that kind of diversity of skill “makes it a lot easier on everyone.”
Possessing strong options off the bench has been crucial for the Hoosiers, who have added 77 points from players not in the starting lineup in their first two games this year. Being able to count on those contributions has helped balance IU’s weakened frontcourt depth, with Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Peter Jurkin and Derek Elston all out until December.
Crean admitted after the game that there were stretches Monday when lineups were based not on match-ups or tactical decisions, but purely on needing to fill spots on the floor and “just play.” For the moment, Crean said, that’s how Indiana will need to approach the tougher parts of its non-conference schedule, including next week’s trip to New York, making bench contributions all the more important.
“There’s conventional, there’s unconventional, and then there’s what we did tonight,” Crean said. “It didn’t become about match-ups as much as it just became about putting guys out there and saying, ‘Let’s go,’ because you know, we may need to do the same thing next Monday and Tuesday.”