No one knew what to expect when Indiana took the court against Northwood last night. Would the Hoosiers even be interested in playing a basketball game after everything they have gone through this past week? Would Tom Crean be booed in his introduction after all the heat that has been put on him? Would Hanner Mosquera-Perea be able to stay out of foul trouble and contribute? Would Indiana struggle with an opponent from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference?
It's been a long week at Indiana - and that is probably an understatement. Coach Crean said the players spent a lot of time at the hospital with sophomore Devin Davis who fractured his skull in a tragic accident last Friday night. In the post-game press conference Tom Crean stated, "He is dealing with a traumatic brain injury". The rattled mindset of the Hoosiers showed early, even after Coach Crean was mostly cheered in the pre-game introduction, as Indiana really struggled with the Northwood Timberwolves trailing most of the way until the 6 minute mark in the first half. And who can blame the Hoosiers for that? They have gone through more in the last week than most other programs and players ever have to go through. On a night where Indiana had only 9 healthy players (including walk-ons), the four man bench was only able to contribute 5 points of the 94 scored. Despite that effort, the Hoosiers were able to run away with this one 94-70 thanks to the strong effort from the starting line-up.
Crean decided to go with four guards to start (Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr, Robert Johnson, and Nick Zeisloft) along with Hanner Perea (the only player over 6'4"). If you didn't know the jersey colors - you might not even have realized which team was Indiana. There would be no height advantage over an exhibition opponent for one of the most storied basketball programs in the nation. And once Indiana got past the first 14 minutes - it didn't seem to matter. Kevin Yogi Ferrell laid one in, followed by Blackmon Jr, and then a thunderous alley-oop dunk from Perea with the assist from Ferrell. The crowd who had been so quiet all night suddenly erupted with energy and the Hoosiers were off. That is typically how games go in The Assembly Hall and it would be no different on this night. Crowds in this building, more so than any other building, have the ability to will a team on to victory. And after the week Hoosier Nation has gone through - they really wanted this one as a way to start moving on. They took a 38-33 lead into the half and ended the game on a 56-37 run.
James Blackmon Jr. was everything he has been advertised to be. He led the Hoosiers with 26 points and also contributed 7 rebounds. The most incredible part of this stat line was he only took 11 shots. He was 7-11 from the field and 10-10 from the free throw line. He was aggressive off the dribble when he needed to be and was also able to find soft spots in the defense on the three point line, and if he can continue to get to the foul line at that rate - he may go above and beyond the high expectations that have been placed upon him.
Many expected Yogi Ferrell to be the other main scorer tonight with Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams suspended, but another player stepped up with 24 points - Nick Zeisloft. I have stated over and over how great Zeisloft was in Canada where he shot 55% from three, but no one expected him to be a high scorer on this team once the season got going. He averaged 6.9 points per game at Illinois State last year, and I think most people assumed he would be around that average this year as well. However, if tonight was any indication - he may have found the perfect role at Indiana. He went 4-8 from three in this one including a couple very deep ones and also found his way to the foul line for ten free throws - and he hit them all. He also added 6 rebounds which may be more of a product of the lack of size on the court for both teams - but is still impressive.
Finally - Hanner Perea. There may have been more eyes on him during this game than any other player. He wasn't able to play in Canada and didn't have a huge role in either of his first two seasons. I'm not sure he could have had a better opening game. He started a bit slow, but with the thunderous dunk at the 3:55 mark of the first half - he announced his arrival as Indiana's big man. He finished with a double double in his first ever start with 10 points and 12 rebounds. While the competition wasn't great, especially with Will Bowles - an all-conference player, not playing due to apparent off the court issues (Indiana isn't the only school with those you know), it was still a nice night from Perea. The question now will be - can he continue to put up these kind of numbers and cut down on the turnovers (he accounted for 4 of Indiana's 10 in this one).
Yes, it was an exhibition game and I know you can't ever tell how a season is going to play out based on the play that occurs in these games - but Indiana looked like a team that might rally around their off the court issues and start playing better as a cohesive unit. When you consider the Hoosiers were missing what is likely 40% of their starting lineup you begin to see how this team might be well under appreciated in the national media as most analysts have them finishing 9th or 10th in the conference. It's just been one game against one small school from Michigan - but it seems to me Indiana may be back on the right track after falling so badly off a week ago.