The Assembly Hall had a different feel last night than the opening two games of the year, and no one was surprised by that given it was the #22 ranked Southern Methodist Mustangs and hall of fame Coach Larry Brown coming to town. Even so, there was still a lot of obvious uneasiness in the crowd to start the game as no one really knew what would occur with their beloved Indiana Hoosiers taking on a quality and very tall ranked opponent. Yes, SMU just came off a blowout loss at #13 Gonzaga - but that is an incredibly tough place to play and a very good team. Yes, SMU was missing one of their best players in 6'9" Markus Kennedy - but they were still extremely long and athletic.
The Hoosier faithful's uneasiness was well founded early in this contest as SMU used their height advantage to take a 20-8 lead before Indiana was able to grab their footing. Hanner Mosquera-Perea had about as rough a first half (and game for that matter) as you could have going 13 minutes with no points or rebounds and was fooled badly on defense multiple times leading to easy layups for SMU. Indiana's shooters though woke The Assembly Hall faithful up as Nick Zeisloft had a four point play, followed by several James Blackmon treys and Indiana led at that half 38-33. After another slow start in the second half, Indiana was again able to regain it's footing with Blackmon, Hartman, and Zeisloft hitting three pointers in 3 of 4 possessions. All of this occurred after Hanner Mosquera-Perea had what I think was the turning point of the entire game in which he was posturized by Ryan Manuel of SMU - but got his feet set in time for a charge to be called. That call resulted in one of those Assembly Hall moments that sent chills down your back as the entire building was shaking. Indiana used the momentum from the crowd from that point on and went on to win 74-68 in which they were led by James Blackmon Jr with 26 points and 7 rebounds. There were a lot of storylines in this one, so what were the top takeaways from this early season match-up with a ranked team?
Indiana can take care of the basketball - The Hoosiers only had 7 turnovers in this one which is an unfathomable turnaround from previous games. When you consider that Kevin Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. combined for 70 minutes and 0 turnovers which is incredible. With the rebounding disadvantage that is likely to occur all year long, it is crucial that Indiana takes care of the basketball and forces turnovers (they forced 19 in this one).had four of those himself, you begin to understand how well most of the team took care of the basketball in this one which was crucial in a game in which they were out rebounded 40-27.
Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson have a ways to go - While Williams did garner 11 points and 4 rebounds and Robinson did provide some good defensive minutes - neither got the kind of playing time they were likely slated to get coming off of last season. Robinson in particular only got 9 minutes of action in this one. Both seemed to have a hard time fitting into this Indiana offensive that attempted 33 three pointers which was the most in the Tom Crean era. Going forward, it is going to be very important for Williams and Robinson to provide the slasher role to this team which can lead to points in the paint, free throws, and kick out opportunities. That could bring this Hoosier offense to another level which would be scary for opponents all year long.
Indiana is not as bad as most have projected - Most prognosticators have the Hoosiers finishing in 10th place in the conference (including BTPowerhouse's staff). If this team is the 10th best team in the conference, this is going to be one heck of a year in the Big Ten. Indiana got throttled on the boards, shot 36% from the field, and still found a way to beat a ranked team. Indiana has so much room to improve as they integrate Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson back into the mix and as all the newcomers become more familiar with the type of effort and play it will take to succeed at this level of basketball. Indiana is incredibly small and that is what has driven most people to pick them 10th, but it seems to me they have a lot of other positives that are going to overcome that height disadvantage. Referring to how far his team has come already on and off the court, Coach Crean, while choking up, said in the postgame press conference, "They are trying to grow up. They are growing up." If this team does continue to grow up, they could be very scary for other opponents come March.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea has to play better - While Indiana was able to escape this game with Perea only scoring 3 points and garnering exactly 0 rebounds, this team almost certainly will not be successful this year unless Perea is playing at a high level. Perea looked lost at times - especially on defense as he frequently mistimed his jumps leading to easy buckets for SMU which could have cost the Hoosiers the game if they didn't play exceptionally well in other areas. To his credit, he did have that monumental charge call which nullified an incredible dunk by Ryan Manuel and really turned the tide in the second half, but Perea has got to play better if Indiana is going to make noise in the B1G this season.
Nick Zeisloft was a huge get this offseason - When I looked at the stat sheet after this one and saw that Zeisloft only played 16 minutes - I was shocked. His fingerprints were all over this game. He had a huge four point play when Indiana was close to being run out of its own gym early in the first half. He then followed that with two huge treys down the stretch to finally put away a pesky Mustang team and bring The Assembly Hall crowd to a fever pitch. If that is the kind of production he can give all year long to go along with his clear leadership ability, this will be one of the better transfer signings that I can remember. He only averaged 6.9 points at Illinois State last year, but clearly has found a better role on this team.
This win was a big step when it comes to having a successful non-conference slate, and now the Hoosiers will get three very winnable games before the next test on December 2nd against Pittsburgh. Next up is Lamar on Saturday night who SMU beat by 39 earlier this season. We might even get some Tim Priller action in that one!