Friday was a night for guards, as Jordan Hulls (left) scored 20 points and Yogi Ferrell (right) handed out 10 assists with no turnovers in a heavy IU win.
In what could hardly be described as a test of anything more than basic game fitness, Indiana crossed the last cupcake opponent off of its calendar before the start of Big Ten play on New Year’s Eve with a 93-59 win against Jacksonville on Friday.
Despite poor early shooting and worrying sloppiness, No. 5 IU (12-1) never seemed troubled by the visiting Dolphins, who struggled all night to deny the Hoosiers open shots or easy rebounds. Indiana never seemed stressed in its final non-conference home game, played in front of a sold-out Assembly Hall on a snowy night in Bloomington.
Senior guard Jordan Hulls paved the way forward for the Hoosiers, in one stretch hitting six 3-pointers consecutively en route to 20 points on the night. That number led all scorers, and Hulls tacked on two assists to backcourt mate Yogi Ferrell’s 10 in another assured outing from Indiana’s starting guard duo.
Indiana did not find sledding easy three days after Christmas, perhaps a reflection of the holiday break its players had just returned from, but the Hoosiers rarely found anyone in their way but themselves.
They turned the ball over four times in the game’s first three minutes, shooting just 3-of-8 during its first five. But defense — and Jacksonville’s across-the-board shortcomings against a team superior in size and talent — kept the home team firmly in control after some early back-and-forth. Persistence broke the dam, Hulls said, as Indiana kept shooting with confidence through its cold start, eventually pulling away with a 27-16 run over the last 10 minutes of the first half.
“We have to just have confidence that we can knock those shots down,” he said, “but also just stay locked into the game plan.”
The first half belonged to Hulls, who missed a pair of early behind-the-arc efforts before ripping off a half-dozen makes in a row to close the opening period. His shots came in any number of ways, but the last six before intermission all wound up in the same place, as Indiana’s resident long-range specialist drowned the Dolphins almost single-handedly.
“What I liked is, he missed his first couple threes … he was aggressive enough to say, ‘Hey, I’m playing,’” IU coach Tom Crean said afterward.
Cody Zeller struggled with foul trouble, and Christian Watford scored just four points in the game’s first 20 minutes, but that hardly mattered to an Indiana team that took a 15-point lead into the locker room.
After the break, Indiana choked the visitors to their end, holding Jacksonville to just 30.8 percent shooting in the game’s second 20 minutes en route to its heavy victory. Hulls quieted down, but Will Sheehey picked up the scoring slack, hitting for 10 points after the break, and 14 overall.
Victor Oladipo continued his streak of double-figure scoring efforts, now 11 games long and dating back to a Nov. 15 win against Sam Houston State. Improved significantly from behind the arc since last season, when he hit 10-of-48 attempts in that column, Oladipo is now 10-of-22 for the season from behind the 3-point line.
“Vic’s value is so high, and obviously, there’s statistics, but the energy that he has – he can energize a team on both ends of the floor. A lot of people can’t do that,” Crean said. “He’s taking good shots.”
By the end of the night, though, the shots Oladipo landed most on target were directed at Ferrell, sitting directly to his left in Indiana’s postgame press conference.
Asked about the freshman’s 10-assist performance, and about his ability and impact at large, Oladipo tossed a friendly zinger at his rookie teammate.
“For someone so short, I don’t know how he sees the court,” Oladipo said jokingly after the game. Hulls, seated on Oladipo’s opposite side, stood by Ferrell, deadpanning that “little guys stick together.”
Minutes later, Tom Crean would sit in front of the same microphones and talk about pushing each of them to keep improving, whether it be with passing, ball handling or simply aggressiveness and chemistry.
But future tasks did not change the reality that this was, by the end of the night, Indiana’s greatest challenge — keeping a straight face long enough to discuss a game that never seemed in doubt, presumably because it never was.
Now, Big Ten play begins.