It was a scene fans weren’t used to seeing in Assembly Hall.
Students not only filled their entire 7,800 seat allotment, but they arrived loud and early Saturday evening, making their presence felt with an environment the No. 1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats hadn’t seen all season.
Heading into its first true road game of 2011, Kentucky’s youth, with three freshmen and two sophomores in the starting five, was evident in the early minutes of the game.
Sophomore forward Terrence Jones came into the game as a 72-percent foul shooter and missed his first two attempts.
Less than a minute later, 89-percent shooter Doron Lamb made 1-of-2 foul shots and went on to miss four free throws during the game.
“I think we came out and weren’t ready for (the atmosphere) at the beginning, being our first (true) away game,” Kentucky senior guard Darius Miller said. “They did a great job of feeding off their crowd. It seemed like it hyped them up, had them making shots we didn’t expect them to make.”
To say the environment only affected the visitors would be naïve, as IU committed six turnovers in its first 12 possessions.
After playing eight games in 23 days to start the season, the Hoosiers had an entire week to prepare for Kentucky. Amid all the hype of the No. 1 team coming to Bloomington, Crean said his team’s level of focus never wavered in the days leading up to the game.
“I didn’t even think we were over-anxious to play,” Crean said. “We were very mature, and I think Coach (Tim) Buckley said it the best. I said, ‘I hope they’re enjoying this,’ and he said, ‘Well, if they were giddy, they may not believe they could win.’”
IU battled through having its leader taken out of much of the game, as Kentucky had 6-foot-7-inch forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hound junior point guard Jordan Hulls.
In the first half, Hulls committed a career-high five turnovers, but he hit two three-pointers following intermission and didn’t turn the ball over in the game’s final 20 minutes.
“The biggest concern I had on the day, with energy and the crowd, was that they weren’t going to hear me a lot,” Crean said. “They had to hear each other. There had to be great echoes because there’s no way I was going to get two, three or four guys’ attention.”
At the other point guard position, Marquis Teague was the target of the IU student section throughout much of the evening.
Teague hails from Indianapolis but elected to head to Lexington and attempt to follow in Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s lineage of first-round draft picks at the point guard position.
In Saturday’s first half, Teague missed all five of his shot attempts, including several point-blank layups, to go along with three turnovers. Calipari said he expected his point guard to struggle in that environment, thus benching him to start the second half.
“Indiana made us, and this crowd made us, play the way we played,” Calipari said.
Following the game, Crean praised the energy of the 17,472 fans as the scattered blue around Assembly Hall was drowned by the “red out.” Saturday’s game marked the first time the Hoosiers had faced a No. 1 ranked team since 2006. Crean said he sees multiple games like this down the road.
“We have envisioned and sold this program in the sense of this happening a lot,” Crean said. “Crowds like this a lot, and having fans be at a fever pitch, and maybe it was because of the week-long buildup. I think that’s when we’ll know this program is really accomplishing things where there’s that kind of feeling for more than one, two, three games.”
During the last few weeks, talk has surfaced through the Kentucky program that the Wildcats might drop IU from the schedule. The two teams have met every season since 1969, and after Crean’s first win in the rivalry, he said sees no reason why this tradition would cease.
“I think it means we are back in the hunt on it,” Crean said. “It hasn’t been much of a rivalry the last couple years. It’s a hypothetical to me. I don’t know why this game would go anywhere. It’s great for everybody.”
The anticipation of Saturday’s game started following the North Carolina State game on Nov. 30 and reached a new level when students began camping out roughly 100 hours before tipoff.
IU players raved about the environment after Saturday’s game, and senior guard Verdell Jones III said his ears were still ringing more than a half hour after his game-winning assist.
Jones was part of an IU team that watched its fans storm the court after beating an unranked Minnesota team two seasons ago. Now, under far different circumstances, no one would question the Hoosier faithful spilling onto the court seconds after Watford’s swish.
“This is the epitome of what Hoosier Nation is all about, and the fans and everybody that supports this program from close and far, young and old, they deserve it because it’s one of those moments that everybody’s going to remember,” Crean said. “They deserve to storm the court. They deserve to stand on chairs and tables and be excited. They do, and our players deserve it.”