Indiana didn’t waste possessions during Wednesday night’s win, or words in its subsequent postgame press conference.
On the court, a 30-26 lead late in the first half ballooned by 34 points midway through the second. No. 6 Indiana (10-1) cut apart Mount Saint Mary’s (4-5) and its useless press, tallying 27 assists on 36 field goals, many of them dunks, layups or open 3-pointers. The words, or lack thereof, came afterward, in a press conference that ran far shorter than usual, one full of fast, blunt answers.
“Not fun,” junior forward Will Sheehey, Indiana’s co-leading scorer on the night with 16 points, said, when asked how practices had been since the loss to Butler last weekend.
“I played with the guys that I went with,” IU coach Tom Crean said when asked why freshmen Jeremy Hollowell and Peter Jurkin stayed pinned to the bench in a 93-54 blowout. Crean did suggest Indiana has been, as a team, dealing with illness in recent days.
By and large, Indiana appeared Wednesday a team bent on business, present only to dispatch of a vastly overmatched opponent by a fitting scoreline, bursting with chippiness and the desire to exorcise a frustrating first loss of the season.
Sheehey’s two-word answer on the practice question epitomized the Hoosiers’ overall approach Wednesday night — efficient and direct. The Hoosiers’ team mark of 70.4 percent from the field is the fourth-best single-game performance in program history, and just the fifth time IU has shot better than 70 percent from the floor. IU converted nine offensive rebounds (on just 15 misses) into 14 second-chance points, held a 36-point advantage in paint points and outscored the visitors 23-2 on the break.
The Mountaineers had hoped to impact the game with the same sort of pressing style that troubled Indiana against VCU in the NCAA Tournament last year. But its inability to make shots (Mount Saint Mary’s shot 17-of-54 from the field) put that hope to bed, and when the visitors could press, Indiana often cut it apart with lethal efficiency.
“We reversed the ball,” Sheehey said. “We moved it, everyone cut well, and when you do that, you break a press.”
Still, Mount Saint Mary’s clawed its way through the first half, at one point cutting Indiana’s lead to four. From that point, the Hoosiers turned up their transition offense, ending the opening period on a 16-3 run. IU opened the second half outscoring the visitors 22-2, and the game was never a contest from that point forward.
It took the Mountaineers more than 11 minutes to score 10 second-half points.
Derek Elston and Hanner Mosquera-Perea each made their home debuts, the former returning from a meniscus tear and the latter from an NCAA-mandated suspension to start the season. Elston in particular got a standing ovation when he first entered the game. He finished with two points and two rebounds, making his only shot of the game.
Cody Zeller and Sheehey shared honors as co-leading scorers for Indiana, with 16 points apiece, while Victor Oladipo had 14 and Remy Abell 12. It was, though, those assist numbers, the ball movement that drove them up, that pleased Crean, who called the final tally “excellent.”
Elston’s return was likely the game’s biggest non-statistical highlight. Out since the preseason with the aforementioned knee injury, the senior forward got through warm-ups fine against Butler, and he practiced some this week.
After testing his knee before the game with a few full-go dunks, Elston gave Crean and trainer Tim Garl the OK, and he played nine minutes in his first appearance of his final season in Bloomington.
“It felt great to get back out there again,” he said after the game.
Underpinning the entire effort, Crean and his players said, was a return to the level of energy and toughness Indiana expects of itself, one that apparently slackened too much in their weekend defeat.
Crean said IU tallied nearly 60 deflections, and that he was “really proud of (his) team, and the way that they responded.” Butler, the Hoosiers said, is in the past, and now, with another game less than 48 hours away, so is Mount Saint Mary’s.
“We just wanted to come out with great energy,” Abell said. “What happened in the past is in the past. We’ve got to look forward to the next game.”