It was Thomas Bryant’s time to go to the free throw line.
But first, he had something to get off his chest.
Three minutes into the second half, as IU huddled during a break in the action, Bryant looked at James Blackmon Jr. and gestured angrily to the other end of the floor. He was upset with a defensive lapse on the previous possession, one that led to an easy layup for UMass Lowell.
Never mind that he had just drawn a trip to the line after a pretty play under the basket. Bryant was still bothered by a poor play on the defensive end, so he took the opportunity to vent.
On a night when the No. 6 Hoosiers found a variety of ways to score in a 100-78 win over the River Hawks, they were also mindful of their shortcomings.
While Wednesday saw periods of soft defensive resistance and absent rebounding against an inferior opponent, the regular-season home opener at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall also produced plenty of brilliant moments, too. That included a 15-0 run midway through the second half that saw UMass Lowell unable to score a basket during a six-minute drought. So, in terms of defense, Wednesday wasn’t a lost cause. Far from it.
IU now just needs to develop the kind of tenacity it used in spurts and stretch that out over longer periods. Merely two games into the year, there is ample time to do so.
“We try to (pick each other up) a lot,” junior guard Robert Johnson said. “We want to be a player-driven team, so we’re holding ourselves accountable. That’s the main way to get better.”
Blackmon led IU in scoring for the second time in as many tries, pouring in a game-high 23 points. Johnson added 16 and OG Anunoby scored 15 for the Hoosiers, who host Liberty on Saturday at 7 p.m. Jahad Thomas led the visitors with 16 points.
Wednesday was another opportunity for IU coach Tom Crean to mix and match his lineups and rotations. Like Friday in Honolulu, 10 players saw the floor by the midway mark of the half.
That was the design of Crean, who entered this early-season matchup seeking to learn what approaches work best for, perhaps, the deepest team he has coached during his nine seasons in Bloomington.
“We wanted to play a lot of guys tonight,” Crean said. “We played a lot of different lineups. I think we were — almost 40 percent of our possessions had two or more freshmen in the game at some point in time.
“So that’s good learning for us. At times it’s going to look sloppy with that, especially with the way we’re trying to bring fatigue to the game. But 23 assists in a game like this is good for us. There will be good things to build off of that we can get better at. Because we do want to be a team that switches.”
The Hoosiers required patience before they were able to pull away Wednesday, trading baskets with a spunky River Hawks outfit that had little trouble on the glass during the first 12 minutes. At the same time, IU’s 3-pointers weren’t falling.
That’s a recipe for trouble.
But Indiana perked up and out-rebounded UMass Lowell 8-2 down the stretch of the first half, at which point Blackmon heated up. He scored 13 of his 20 first-half points during the final 7:13 of the period, helping the Hoosiers to a 53-36 halftime advantage.
Late in the half, Crean played both Bryant and freshman forward De’Ron Davis together, and that tandem seemed to bring better defensive posturing to help spur Indiana to its lead.
Defensively, IU also saw success with a press late in the second half, causing problems for the River Hawks as they tried to move up the floor.
Crean has spoken about deploying different degrees of pressures this season. The press IU used on Friday, however, seemed to form organically.
“At one point when we got up, kind of got a couple of shots in the back court, that was completely random,” Johnson said. “So that’s something we want to continue to build on. We wanted to pressure them full court, man to man, but that was just something we did a good job of rotating with and it was good for us.”
Just as Wednesday’s game was good for the future. The Hoosiers have their teaching points. Now they’re tasked with building on them.
“The ball was moving, and at times we didn’t shoot the ball as well,” Crean said. “At times, we didn’t rebound it as well. But it’s early November, and what we’ve said all along is we can continue to get better. And I think we will.”