Even with a lopsided victory last month in West Lafayette against Purdue, the IU men’s basketball team wasn’t quite satisfied. Although they handed the Boilermakers the team’s worst-ever home loss in Mackey Arena, the Hoosiers gave up 30 points to freshman center A.J. Hammons, while holding the rest of his teammates to the same number.
Going into Saturday’s home rematch against Hammons and Purdue, IU Coach Tom Crean said Hammons’ career performance was still fresh in their minds.
After experiencing the freshman’s breakout game first-hand, the Hoosiers made certain there would be no repeat performance Saturday, holding Hammons to just six points while defeating Purdue 83-55.
“They saw the film and saw plenty enough on how A.J. had 30 points in that first game and all that,” Crean said. “We came out and had a little different viewpoint on how we were going to defend him.”
Rather than marking Hammons with sophomore forward Cody Zeller as IU did for much of the first meeting, Crean decided to go with a different matchup. Senior forward Christian Watford guarded Hammons for much of the game, holding him to just 3-of-10 shooting from the field as well as limiting him to only three rebounds.
Crean hinted after the teams’ first meeting earlier this season that the Hoosiers may need to double-team Hammons in order to keep him from getting too many touches in the post.
While Watford gave up three inches to Zeller, Crean said he was pleased that his senior was able to hold his own down low Saturday and prevent Hammons from torching the Hoosiers from the foul line, where he shot 10-of-12 against IU in Mackey Arena.
Saturday, he didn’t take a single foul shot.
“That was a big key for us today,” Crean said. “We didn’t want to put him on the foul line. He makes them. He’s quick. We just needed to make life tough down there in a sense of being active.
“If he gets you on his back, and you saw that late in the game, for his age, he’s almost unstoppable, and that says a lot.”
Over the past few weeks, much has been said about Watford’s success from behind the 3-point line and at the charity stripe – he leads the conference in 3-point percentage and is second in free throw percentage. Saturday, though, Crean said Watford proved to NBA scouts that he can be more than just an offensive threat.
“Christian really rose to the challenge,” Crean said. “He can guard anybody. I’m glad people are seeing that. We had GMs here today. We had other NBA teams, and he can guard anybody. He has a toughness to him.
“He can make shots. He can get to the rim. He can make foul shots, but he can really, really defend.”
Zeller said that often times in practice, when Crean splits his players into teams for what he calls a “best-on-best” scrimmage, Watford has to take on the task of guarding Zeller. The 7-foot sophomore said in those practices, Watford has given him a tough time, so he knew defending Hammons wouldn’t be a problem.
“I knew he could do it,” Zeller said. “It kept me out of foul trouble, and he did a nice job with it.”
Zeller even added that he wouldn’t mind taking some time off from guarding the team’s big man. But for Watford, one game was enough.
“I’m done, Cody,” he said.
And for the Hoosiers, one game was all they needed.