While IU started its first two games of the regular season a little slowly, the Hoosiers wasted no time jumping on top of Sam Houston State on Thursday.
Senior forward Christian Watford didn't start, but dominated to the tune of 23 points and six rebounds against Sam Houston State.
IU’s starting lineup, which was tweaked a little bit from what fans have seen in the first two games, raced out to a 12-2 lead, and had no trouble maintaining a safe distance from there on out, eventually improving to 3-0 with a 99-45 victory.
Junior forward Will Sheehey started his first game of the season, as senior forward Christian Watford came off the bench for the first time since Feb. 12, 2011. That game, Watford was coming off a broken hand, and it is the only other game in Watford’s IU career he hasn’t started.
“I think Will’s a starter," IU head coach Tom Crean said. "I’m not making that up when I say I look at my team like we’ve got seven starters.”
In the end, both Sheehey and Watford became keys to IU’s victory. Watford had 11 first-half points off the bench to lead all scorers, and Sheehey was close behind, with 10.
Watford and Sheehey ended the night with 23 and 18 points, respectively. Crean said Watford's passion from the bench impressed him.
“We just wanted to make a little energy change," Crean said of the lineup adjustment, "and I think he played with as much energy as anyone out there tonight.”
Perhaps the most significant points of the night, however, came on a shot while IU already led by more than 40. Senior guard Jordan Hulls pulled up at the top of the 3-point arc and launched a shot that looked destined for the hoop as soon as it left his hand — just as it had 182 times before then.
The shot went down, marking Hulls’ 1,000th point in an IU uniform. It places him 43rd all-time on IU’s scoring list, just more than 200 points behind Jered Jeffries, who scored 1,008 points from 2000-2002. Hulls finished with 10 points.
Junior Will Sheehey got his first start of the season and collected 18 points.
“That kid epitomizes what we’re doing," Crean said of Hulls. "He epitomizes IU basketball in so many ways.”
The dominant IU effort extended well beyond the abilities of Sheehey, Watford and Hulls, though. Junior guard Victor Oladipo, who again played stifling defense, ended the night with 14 points and 7 rebounds.
IU totaled 24 assists, led by true freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell's seven. Hulls, who added five, said the Hoosiers are at their best when they share the ball.
"We’re an unselfish basketball team, and the ball’s going in the hole," Hulls said. "That’s what we want, getting layups. I thought our defense was really good tonight, a lot of deflections, guys coming in off the bench and the tempo wasn’t dropping one bit.”
The Bearkat offense was stumped against IU, as they managed to shoot just .302, including a 5-26 (.192) line from behind the arc.
Sam Houston State’s big man, 6-foot-11 sophomore center Michael Holyfield, immediately found himself in foul trouble, gathering two personal fouls before the first media timeout. He finished the game with a point and a rebound in 12 minutes before fouling out near the end of the game.
A large part of Holyfield’s trouble was sophomore forward Cody Zeller for IU. He overpowered Holyfield from the beginning. Even when IU played with a small lineup, with Watford and true freshman Jeremy Hollowell inside, Holyfield was stymied.
The question for the Hoosiers is whether or not they’ll be able to put together such a balanced and dominant effort when they face their toughest test yet Monday. They continue to the New York portion of the Progressive Legends Classic, taking on Georgia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
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