Indiana overpowers Liberty, 87-48

A text message full of teaching points was waiting on Tom Crean’s cell phone by the time he walked into Indiana’s locker room shortly after Saturday’s game.

It came from his oldest daughter, Megan, who watched IU’s dominant 87-48 win over Liberty on television and sent her father a list of critiques.

“She makes all of you look mild right now with her critiques,” Crean joked. “So I already saw that message from her and she’s not even here. She’s at the Michigan-Indiana game. I get it from all levels. But to me, everything’s correctible.”

Including turnovers, which is an area of Indiana’s game that most certainly will require attention. While the bulk of Saturday’s game was another showcase for Indiana’s potency and versatility, it also could have been much more one-sided.

On a night when the No. 6 Hoosiers did so many things well and asserted their dominance at will, the 26 turnovers were unquestionably problematic.

In the middle of November, those sins can be forgiven. But ball-handling mistakes were also a problem last year, and for the Hoosiers to get to where they want to go later this season, mistakes like the ones seen Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall must be wiped away.

Crean’s rapid-fire diagnosis for the turnovers centered on pace and footwork. At times IU played too quickly, lost control and failed to see plays materialize. The Hoosiers were whistled a few times for traveling, which is where the need for better footwork stems.

Some of the errors, too, could be attributed to trying to solve Liberty’s pack-line defense. The Hoosiers had nine turnovers by the midway point of the opening half, and 17 by the time they broke for halftime.

“We’ve got to continue to build on that,” Crean said. “We’ve got to continue to cut better without the ball. We’ve got to continue to give the ball up one dribble earlier. Our mindset of passing is good. Sometimes we don’t execute it as well. There were a few things that were very easy to correct with our turnovers in the sense of our spacing. Like I said, the footwork, a few other things, we’ve got to work a little harder at. But it’s the third game of the year.”

Indeed it is. Just imagine what this game could have looked like had the Hoosiers been more crisp. Even with the turnovers, this night belonged completely to Indiana.

At one point in the first half, Liberty went 7:33 without scoring a single point. During that span, IU embarked upon a 24-0 run to build a 39-7 lead late in the period.

The Hoosiers dominated the glass, and at halftime, OG Anunoby had more rebounds (nine) than did the Flames (seven). All told, Indiana out-rebounded Liberty 55-20.

Anunoby did a little bit of everything for the Hoosiers, posting his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 11 boards. He also added two blocks and an assist.

Leading scorer James Blackmon fell one rebound shy of his own double-double, finishing with a game-high 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists and five turnovers. Blackmon has now scored at least 20 points in each of IU’s first three games, becoming the third Hoosier in the past 10 years to do so over a three-game span. Yogi Ferrell and Eric Gordon also accomplished the feat.

Blackmon’s scoring output is important, and IU would be served well if he continues at a similar pace. But the junior guard said he’ll also spend the next couple days assessing his turnovers, too.

“I’m going to watch a couple of them,” Blackmon said. “I think that I forced a couple of passes that I tried to get into the paint, just not overlooking into the paint. We want to get the ball to Thomas (Bryant), but (by) not forcing in there and just taking more care of the ball.”

This was a physical game, one that saw a combined 48 fouls. At one point midway through the second half, Josh Newkirk had to return to the IU locker room after he lost a tooth in a play around the basket.

After starting IU’s first two games, Newkirk played a reserve role on Saturday. Juwan Morgan made his first career start, while Newkirk came off the bench and scored three points, grabbed five rebounds and picked up four fouls.

“We’re asking a lot of him right now and doing more than what he’s done,” Crean said of Newkirk. “I was really looking forward to him going out there, continuing to play with the four fouls and then obviously he got hit and couldn’t continue. I have no reason to believe that it will be anything more than getting that replaced and, hopefully, with the addition of a mouth guard he’ll be OK.”

Indiana travels to Fort Wayne to play the Mastodons at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.