With 13 points and two rebounds, assists and steals, Creek outscored the rest of the starting five combined.
But in the second half, Creek was much quieter. With only four points and 12 minutes, other Hoosiers had to step up.
Fortunately for IU, freshman forward Christian Watford did just that.
Watford, a starter in all of IU’s games thus far, matched Creek’s first half total. IU coach Tom Crean said the counterbalanced performances were not by design.
“Those guys took good shots,” Crean said. “Those guys are going to be big moving forward.”
The game against Northwestern State, considered by the team as a critical win following IU’s losses in Puerto Rico and considering the upcoming contests against tough opponents Maryland, Pittsburgh and Kentucky, was about what Crean has been stressing in practice since the beginning – a defensive mind-set and the little things.
“By no stretch of the imagination are we playing great,” he admitted. “But we are playing hard. We’re playing with a real purpose. ... It’s gotta get done by the rebounding. It’s gotta get done with the defense.”
From shooting nearly 50 percent from the field to making 34 of 44 free throws (compared to Northwestern State’s 29 attempts), the Hoosiers played physically and made the most of their opportunities.
That, Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said, was a major difference from last year’s team.
“IU came out and did a very good job today,” McConathy said after the game. “Coach Crean made them a lot better today.”
The energy that came from bench play was another factor in the game, Creek said.
Players such as freshman forward Derek Elston, who put up 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and snatched the ball from Northwestern State players four times, brought electricity to the court.
A dunk from Elston sent the crowd into a frenzy with eight and a half minutes to go in the second half. With every layup from senior center Tijan Jobe came shouts and standing ovations. Sophomore guard Daniel Moore threw in six points and was perfect from the free-throw line.
“They bring it all,” Creek said. “Everybody contributed today. That’s how it’s gotta be for everybody. That’s just how it is. Everybody has to bring the defensive intensity, the offensive intensity, the rebounds, the steals.”
Elston said he enjoys his position on the team and knows he will not get a spot in the starting rotation anytime soon. However, he said what matters is making the most of his time and keeping the team mentality.
“I kind of spark the team a little bit,” he said. “It just helps me a lot to know I’m one of those guys who can get the team going.”
Junior guard Jeremiah Rivers had 10 assists, and Crean said he has to have a big game every game – in a way marking him as the leader of this IU squad.
However, Saturday’s game was just the way Elston said it had to be – it was a team effort.
“I never just look at it about me,” he said. “I never say what I do well. It’s about the team.”
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