Through the team’s first 15 games, a strong performance by senior forward Christian Watford has been a nearly surefire indicator of an IU blowout, and Monday evening was no exception.
Watford had his fingerprints all over the game, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds to lead his team in both categories and spurring the first-half run that put IU in the driver’s seat early.
“We wanted to get him going,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “We wanted to get him right off the back.”
IU’s 23-point margin of victory was its smallest of the season in games that saw Watford score 15 points or more — all previous wins in those matchups were by at least 31 points — though the game was never truly in doubt after an early 17-6 Hoosier run that pushed the lead to double figures, at 19-8, for the rest of the contest.
Watford was heavily involved in that early point spree, scoring in a multitude of ways. As he had last time out in IU’s Big Ten opener on the road against Iowa, the forward aggressively drove to the hoop at the game’s onset, scoring the game’s first points on a layup 15 seconds in.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, wanted to get in the paint and get some easy buckets to start off,” Watford said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me and we executed some plays and took it from there.”
He followed this with a 3-point shot, the first of a team-leading three he made out of five attempts, then another aggressive, contested layup in the paint that gave him an and-one opportunity that he successfully converted on.
And just like that, Watford had eight points in his team’s 10-3 lead. He would head into the half with 13.
“He really went to his pull-up tonight instead of going with a floater,” Crean said.
Watford concurred with his coach.
“I didn’t settle for the outside jumper,” Watford said. “I took what the defense gave me.”
Though he scored only three more points in the second half, Watford remained involved with the offense, sending a crisp pass into the paint for a backdoor layup by junior guard Victor Oladipo with 5:33 to go in the game.
Seven of his eight rebounds came on the defensive boards as Watford was a persistent defensive presence all evening for the Hoosiers as they held the Nittany Lions to 19-of-60 shooting and, like the Crimson Tide of Watford’s home state, rolled to victory.
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