After the performance it had Sunday, Indiana is even happier not to have the week-long layoff that was on the Big Ten schedule.
The Hoosiers had initially scheduled North Carolina Central for Dec. 7, a game that fell between the Stetson game on Dec. 4 and the Kentucky game on Dec. 10. When the Big Ten schedule came out and the Hoosiers had two byes in 11 days, though, Indiana coach Tom Crean looked for a team that would fill one of those gaps and North Carolina Central was the team that could make the move.
It was a move that worked on both ends. The time off helped the Hoosiers prepare for Kentucky in a game that became their signature win of the season. Now, it works to keep the Hoosiers from having a full week to stew over their humbling 78-66 loss to Iowa on Sunday. The Hoosiers play North Carolina Central at 7 p.m. today at Assembly Hall.
“It’s real nice to come out here and realize what we done and see the guys the way we practiced the last couple of days, to know that we’re not really hanging our head on it,” junior forward Derek Elston said. “It’s a little too late in the season for anybody to really hang our head on the way we played. We just gotta come back and show that we really care about winning and losing. We’ll take it personal, but once we get on the court, we kinda gotta let it go and move on. That’s exactly what we did.”
Said Indiana coach Tom Crean: “I think they see where the mistakes were made on film. We saw where our opportunities were, how we didn’t take advantage of them. Mistakes that we made. We made some discipline mistakes in the game. We made some communications mistakes as far as what was switchable and what’s not. … I’m glad that we’re gonna have a game, and I’m glad that we’re gonna have a tough game, which I believe that it is.”
Crean made a point of saying that repeatedly. North Carolina Central is obviously a relative unknown from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and even with a rebuilding program a year ago, the Hoosiers waltzed to a 72-56 win over the Eagles. However, the team has evolved significantly. The Eagles are 14-12 overall, 8-5 in the MEAC and start two transfers from high-major programs in Domonique Sutton and Ray Willis.
Sutton played three years at Kansas State and started two of them, helping the Wildcats to the Elite Eight his junior year. He decided to come back to his hometown of Durham, N.C. for his final year, and is averaging 16.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Junior guard Ray Willis, meanwhile, is averaging 15.8 points per game after transferring from Oklahoma.
“They’re high-major guys,” Crean said. “Based on the way that they started. For one reason or another they ended up going to North Carolina Central to play, but they’re high-major guys. We think that they’re well-coached. We have played them in the past…. They are a very formidable opponent. They’re dangerous, and I’m glad we get a chance to turn right around and play.”
Said Elston: “They’re a very aggressive team. We know they have a couple of big guys, a couple of guys who can shoot. Maybe even a pro prospect out there. We know that if we don’t bring our hardest or come out and play to the ability that we know we can, there’s a chance that we can be embarrassed even.”