The 88-80 overtime win in the finale of the regular season just wouldn’t have been right if it didn’t feature a time of uncertainty, which has been the only constant for the 2009-10 IU men’s basketball season.
Lineups have changed, contributors have changed, but the questions haven’t.
The Hoosiers were one loss away from the worst overall losing streak in school history, and, while one win can not salvage a season, Crean seemed to have a better sense of his team’s future direction Saturday.
“I know exactly where we want to go with it,” Crean said. “It’s not always clear how we’re going to get there, but it’s getting clearer.”
After an 11-game losing streak, very few weren’t willing to concede that the year had become a wash.
Although it was one game, IU displayed flashes of what could be.
The team limited Northwestern to 25-percent shooting in overtime, improving a category IU coach Tom Crean has questioned.
Its other major fault has come in the field-goal percentages. The Hoosiers were 26-of-60 shooting against the Wildcats. It was also 43 percent from 3-point range Saturday.
“It’s good for the fans to see how hard we actually work, to see something come out of it finally,” sophomore guard Verdell Jones said.
The performances of young players can breed optimism as was evidenced by Crean’s sentiments. However, the 2009-10 season has seen uneven play from everyone who shone Saturday.
Before this game, the only freshman forward Christian Watford averaged double figures scoring among the first-year players with 12 points per game.
Jones was the only player to average more than Watford’s 14.
The majority of IU’s scoring against Northwestern, though, came from players who had never seen a senior day ceremony from the sidelines of Branch McCracken Court.
Freshmen Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Watford all scored more than 14 points and played more than 25 minutes.
Jones also provided 18 points, and freshman forward Bobby Capobianco scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds, many of which were critical to IU’s chances for a win.
Hulls started IU’s hot outside shooting and finished with 24 points, all compiled on eight 3-pointers.
Watford added 14 points, but it was Elston who sustained IU throughout. He performed well for the second-straight game and scored 17 points in 27 minutes.
At many times, Crean played the four freshmen with Jones. The young team excelled, and Elston said it signaled a shift in Crean’s perspective on playing the freshmen together.
“It’s good to know that we’re trusted to be out there now,” Elston said. “A lot in the beginning of the season, we didn’t really know if Coach wanted us out there.”
Elston went on to say the freshmen are now capable of stepping onto to the court and being go-to guys for Crean.
They’ll have to.
Sophomore Tom Pritchard, junior Jeremiah Rivers and senior Devan Dumes all saw fewer minutes than usual.
When watching his young team play, Crean said he was startled for a moment. That worry was soothed by their play.
“To be honest with you, it hit me once when I looked on the defensive end and we had four freshmen and a sophomore,” he said. “Other than that, I didn’t think about it. I was just looking at a basketball team.”
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