The Hoosiers only had to wait four days to get their first NCAA tournament win since 2007.
Thanks to a fast-paced game that played right into the hands of Indiana, the No. 4 seed Hoosiers beat No. 13 seed New Mexico State 79-66 at the Rose Garden in Portland.
Any fear of playing on the game’s biggest stage was quickly put to rest as IU (26-8) jumped out to a 14-4 lead less than five minutes into the game, and forced 13 turnovers in the first half.
A seven-point halftime lead reached as many as 21 points in the second half as the Hoosiers cruised into Saturday’s third round match-up with No. 12 seed VCU.
“For a team that had not been in this environment, had not been in this type of arena, I don’t mean the Rose Garden but the NCAA Tournament arena, they handled it very, very well,” Crean said.
Junior guard Jordan Hulls lead all scorers with 22 points including three three-pointers in a 2:13 stretch in the second half.
“I was just getting open looks from my teammates, coming off ball screens,” Hulls said. “I hit the first shot and so then it started feeling a little bit better once it started leaving my hand and I was able to knock down some shots.”
The Hoosiers had four players in double figures with junior Christian Watford, sophomore Will Sheehey and freshman Cody Zeller each adding 14 points.
Heading into Thursday night’s game, IU Coach Tom Crean preached the importance of keeping the Aggies (26-10) off the offensive glass and away from the foul line.
The Aggies shot almost 300 more free throws than anyone else in the Western Athletic Conference this season and finished the year third in the nation in rebounding margin.
NMSU did not get into the bonus in either half and finished the game with just a 22-21 edge in rebounds, six below the Aggies season average.
“I thought we had great verticality in the post,” Crean said of his players staying out of foul trouble. “Our whole thing was attack on offense, have verticality on defense, and block out like crazy."
In defending the WAC’s leading scorer and rebounder Wendell McKines, the Hoosiers talked on Wednesday how they needed to limit his touches.
The Aggies star had just 10 shot attempts Thursday evening compared to the past 10 games where McKines had attempted at least 15 shots in every contest.
“He said some things in a press conference earlier that were a little questionable, so we took it upon ourselves to make sure he didn’t get those touches,” Sheehey said.
IU’s attention now turns to Saturday as the Hoosiers will look to advance to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2002.
Standing in IU’s way will be the Rams of VCU (29-6), the darlings of last year’s tournament.
The Rams knocked off No. 5 seed Wichita State 62-59 on Thursday evening thanks to a full court press that wrecked havoc for the higher seeded Shockers.
“VCU's full court pressure is the real deal,” Crean said. “That's probably not something we see on a nightly basis in the Big Ten. We've seen it. But that will be the biggest adjustment we'll have to make in a short period of time outside of us learning their sets and their concepts and things like that."
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