Photo courtesy of IU athletics -Â
Coming off its first true road win of the season Wednesday night at Evansville, IU picked up right where they left off, beating Savannah State 94-65 Saturday night at Assembly Hall.
Like IUâ€™s first two home games, both the Hoosiers and the 16,613 in attendance took a little bit to wake up.
A Christian Watford three pointer woke them up, Victor Oladipo then forcing a defensive five-second call brought them to their feet and a Derek Elston three pointer at the halftime buzzer kept them there.
But the story that evolved from the Hoosiers fourth route in as many games was the play of Cody Zeller, whose play was heavily applauded by head coach Tom Crean.
â€œCody was outstanding,â€ Crean said after the game. We want all of our guys to play with a real intensity, a real determination but to play with emotion, not emotional. Cody certainly epitomizes that, he plays with some emotion and he plays with a lot of intensity, but you never look at Cody and think he is getting emotional about anything, which is good.â€
While setting a new career high, the freshmanâ€™s 23 points (11-13 FT) and five rebounds not only exceeded his stat line standard, but more importantly, for the first time this season it felt as if the game plan revolved around feeding Zeller in the post and letting him go to work.
On the games second possession, Jordan Hulls was intent on getting Zeller involved early, hitting him with a bounce pass that led to an easy three-point play as Zeller finished through the contact.
â€œIts always one of our keys to get it inside and get into the bonus early in the game, I think we did an outstanding job tonight,â€ Zeller said.
Christian Watfordâ€™s 19 points on 6-7 shooting also turned heads. After a slow start to the season â€“ causing some fans to voice concern â€“ Watford continued to come out aggressive early, finishing with his second consecutive game in double figures.
â€œChristian was very good, continued to play extremely hard,â€ Crean said.
While 19 points is not new territory for Watford, his 2-2 from three and 5-5 from the line was exemplarily, and should put an end to the panic amongst Hoosier nation.
Whether it was getting to the line, hitting the open three or taking advantage of a mismatch down low, Watford is an embodiment of the Hoosiers newfound versatility, and showed why he is at the forefront of the Hoosiers new powerful offensive attack.
To illustrate their new fast paced, high scoring attack, the Hoosiers fell two late Derek Elston missed free throws short of finishing their second consecutive game with five players scoring in double figures (Watford, Zeller, Sheehey, Jones).
â€œThey can score. They’ve got more than one, two, or three people,â€ Savannah State head coach Horace Broadnax said. They can put four or five guys out there that can score the ball so it’s hard to defend that.”
To note, not appearing on that list was IUâ€™s leading scorer, Victor Oladipo. Not to say that Oladipo did not perform to the high standard he has set through four games, but more a testament to the versatility the Hoosiers are capable of displaying.
Oladipo finished with a quiet six points and six rebounds, but brought the same rigorous defense as always, locking down and limiting Savannah States leading scorer Rashad Hassan to just 10 points on 3-6 shooting.
â€œVictor was good, he had a tough assignment, and a little under the weather today and that might have affected him a little bit,â€ Crean said.
IUâ€™s defense opened up the game early, sparking a 13-0 run midway through the first half to give the Hoosiers a 27-14 lead. From there the route was on, as IU kept their foot on the throttle and outscored Savannah State 27-4 on turnovers.
First off the bench again for the Hoosiers was Will Sheehey, who has asserted himself as Creanâ€™s sixth man early on. While unable to find his rhythm early, Sheehey remained aggressive, finding a way to create his own offense as he finished the first half 7-8 from the line.
In the second half, however, Sheehey heated up and finished the game with a career high 15 points on 3-7 (9-12 from the line) including the most electrifying â€œalmost dunkâ€ of the season.
â€œOne thing I concentrate on is to bring some energy and play aggressive,â€ Sheehey said. â€œIâ€™m completely comfortable in that role.â€
Sheehey did not forget to credit his partner in crime off the bench, Derek Elston, who finished with nine points on 4-6 shooting.
â€œDerek can mix things up inside and outside which is what makes him so deadly on the court,â€ Sheehey said. â€œIf he can stay aggressive and keep knocking down shots its going to help us out a lot.
Sharing a similar sentiment after the game was coach Crean.
â€œDerek was good and he was aggressive. I thought the presence of mind at the end of the half was good,â€ Crean said. â€œHeâ€™s really lining up the ball well, heâ€™s squared up, heâ€™s following through, heâ€™s aggressive and weâ€™re being able to do a lot more things with him on the defensive end right now and thatâ€™s good.”Â
Elston has shot the ball fantastic on the season (14-20), which has expanded his range, and in turn, opened up the Hoosier offense, an offense that has outscored its opponents by 20-plus points in each of its first four games â€“ the first time since the 1938-1939 season.
For those still awaiting their Thanksgiving break departure, the Hoosiers will be back in action Monday, as they will look to reach 5-0 as they face the Gardner-Webb at Assembly Hall.