Two hours before tipoff, while some of his teammates were still filing into Indiana’s locker room inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, sophomore OG Anunoby was on the floor lifting shots into the air.
During his first season in the program, Anunoby made a habit of being among the first Hoosiers to take the floor prior to games. There he was again on Tuesday evening, alone but for the managers, shifting around the arc and tossing a string of deep shots at the net.
Anunoby is working to become a more complete and potent offensive threat this season, and in No. 11 Indiana’s 98-65 exhibition win over Hope College, it was his shooting ability that highlighted the night.
“I think it’s been a real big focus, just adding another element to his game,” classmate Juwan Morgan said. “Like tonight, he was on fire as soon as he got out there. He was just knocking down shots. When he knocks down shots, that opens up things for Thomas (Bryant), and when he is scoring, people will have to close back in on him and that opens up the game for us again.”
Anunoby poured in 16 points, connecting on six of his nine shot attempts and going 4-for-7 from 3-point range. To his credit, Anunoby showed flashes of his stationary shooting ability last season, when he hit 13 of his 39 3-point attempts on the year.
On the edge of a new season, one in which Anunoby will be asked to contribute in higher volumes, he seems poised to follow through.
“He has to step up and be one of those guys who handle the ball a lot this year,” junior guard James Blackmon Jr. said. “He wasn’t afraid to do that. That’s why he had a huge game.”
Anunoby was visible in more familiar ways, too. He earned arguably the the loudest ovation of the night when he blocked a runner by Hope’s Harrison Blackledge midway through the second half. The ball would have landed in the front row of seats near center court if not for a leaping save by a fellow Flying Dutchman.
Though this obviously won’t count, Tuesday was the first time Anunoby was tasked with taking the court with Indiana’s starting five. Expect much more of that once the regular season begins on Nov. 11.
“OG spends as much time in the gym as anybody we’ve had here at his age,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “If that continues to keep up, he will be in a really good place.”
On Tuesday, Anunoby was joined on the floor by a mishmash lineup that featured only one true guard, junior James Blackmon Jr, who looked strong in his first game action since injuring his ACL in late December last season.
Juwan Morgan filled point guard duties for the first three minutes until Robert Johnson came on to replace Zach McRoberts, an intriguing walk-on who received the starting nod. Thomas Bryant filled out IU’s starting five.
“We played a lot of different lineups,” Crean said. “I wouldn’t read anything into any of the lineups. It could change again on Saturday. To me, it’s about having many multi-dimensional, versatile guys that can play at numerous positions for us, and try to build ourselves to be a team that can bring fatigue to the game.”
Tuesday’s starting lineup got off to a sloppy start, which included McRoberts fouling a Hope 3-point shooter. The Flying Dutchmen used a 10-0 run in the first three minutes to build its largest lead of the game at 14-7.
Indiana gradually chipped away, outscoring Hope 17-2 over a seven-minute span midway through the period.
The Hoosiers had 10 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, but worked their way to a 43-29 halftime advantage. The second half was a bit more crisp, with IU shooting 66 percent from the field and going 6-for-10 from beyond the arc during the final 20 minutes.
Freshman Devonte Green was a pleasant surprise in his soft debut. Aggressive and quick, Green finished with a game-high 17 points for Indiana. Blackmon and Bryant each scored 15.
Johnson added 13 points, and finished as a plus-44 for the night. Indiana outscored Hope 60-16 while Johnson was on the floor.
Overall, the Hoosiers are not yet where they want to be ahead of next week’s opener against No. 3 Kansas in Hawaii. In particular, the rash of off-season injuries and surgeries this team experienced prevented IU from practicing as a full unit until very recently.
But some of the individual development on display in Tuesday’s exhibition lends to the idea that a sharper team performance may not be too far out of reach.
“Everything we could have wanted in this game was there,” Crean said. “They made us play extremely hard. Our mistakes came out — the things we haven’t spent very much time on came out. The things that we’ve got to get better at were clear. Some of our strengths came out. But the bottom line after a month of practice is to play against a team that well-coached, that good in this environment was really great for us.”