It wasn’t always crisp. It wasn’t always pretty.
But Indiana’s 103-61 blowout victory over Houston Baptist served its purpose.
Saturday’s win before a sleepy Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was a dead week placeholder for a Hoosier team that is in between key moments of the season. Tom Crean’s bunch is coming off a four-game, eight-day stretch that saw them claim wins in each contest. The No. 9 Hoosiers are also preparing for a resume game next week against No. 16 Butler in the Crossroads Classic.
So Saturday was a chance to stretch their legs against an overmatched Southland Conference opponent. Paired with the Huskies similarly quick pace, the Hoosiers got the workout they desired.
Indiana (8-1) finished five players in double figures, led by James Blackmon Jr.’s co-game-high 18 points. Inside of the game, the Hoosiers used the contest as a confidence-building opportunity for some of those individuals who are still building their comfort levels.
That includes Freddie McSwain, Zach McRoberts and IU’s crew of freshmen.
McSwain, a junior college forward, had his cleanest performance to date. He scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench
McRoberts didn’t score, but finished as a plus-24 in the final plus-minus. He also dished four first-half assists for an IU team that had little trouble moving the ball against an opponent in Houston Baptist that has produced two of its first three wins of the season against non-Division I competition.
McRoberts played a major role in IU’s ball movement.
“I think a big focus this week was a little less dribbling, a little quicker decision making and just get the ball out, get the ball out in front of us,” Crean said. “With our footwork, not over-penetrate. And a couple of our mistakes, they were definitely correctable. We want to become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor. And the turnovers, as hard as we work, defensively, and as good as movement as we get offensively, there’s no real sense in giving it back too much. When you play fast there’s going to be some, I get that.”
Encouraging enough on Saturday was the fact that IU, which entered the day averaging 17 errors across its first eight games, turned it over merely 12 times against the Huskies in such an uptempo game.
“This past practice week, we really were taking responsibility,” Juwan Morgan said. “Not just having the coaches do it, but responsibility for each other in practice. And we were just like making dumb turnovers, we were getting on to each other. I think that’s why we had probably one of the more competitive weeks since I’ve been here.
“Just doing that, it translates to the game. Because it’s a lot harder in practice going against somebody that knows exactly what you’re about to do, as far as place, than it is in a game. And we like to try to make practice a lot harder than the games that way. It will flow together when we get into the games.”
Morgan set a school record with his 14th consecutive made field goal before missing a 3-pointer early in the second half. Morgan came into the game having hit his last 12 shots.
IU, which didn’t find its first points until more than two and a half minutes into the game, struggled to connect its shots early in the first half. Blackmon was IU’s leading scorer, too, at halftime with nine points despite making only three of his first 11 attempts
But a 12-0 run midway through the period lifted the Hoosiers to a 22-12 advantage. That separation boosted IU to the runaway win.
“I think in the second half, we just decided to really sit down and get stops on defense and string stops together,” said Robert Johnson, who added 16 points. “And I think when we do that, that allows us to get out in transition and get easy baskets. And I think it translated well for us.”
Juwan Morgan posted 13 points, while freshman Curtis Jones turned in 11 points off the bench. Josh Newkirk added 10 points and Thomas Bryant finished with 13 rebounds.
OG Anunoby was cleared to play, but didn’t see the floor.
Anunoby has now missed three games after injuring his ankle late in the Nov. 30 game against North Carolina, though it appears he could be in line to play in IU’s next game — a matchup with No. 16 Butler in the Dec. 17 Crossroads Classic.
“The bottom line is that he’s starting to do more, but he’s not feeling it yet,” Crean said. “So he was cleared today, but the bottom line is just the comfort level.”