Indiana Daily Student

Seniors focused on last home game

Luckily for IU’s three seniors, last Saturday’s game against Iowa wasn’t the trio’s last game in Assembly Hall.

Sure, the Hoosiers pulled out a 73-60 victory, and Sunday’s game clinched a share of the Big Ten title after losses from Wisconsin and Michigan State. But in a game characterized by an abundance of foul calls and sluggish offensive play early on, IU’s senior class left room for improvement in their final game at Assembly Hall at 9 p.m. today as No. 2 IU takes on No. 14 Ohio State.

Senior forward Derek Elston tied his season high Saturday with five points on 2-of-4 shooting in nine minutes of action, but senior guards Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, two of IU’s most lethal scoring threats, combined for just seven points — all from free throws — while shooting a combined 0-of-15 from the floor.

IU Coach Tom Crean said that what’s important is his seniors led the team to another victory.

“It’s important that we win, and they impact winning,” Crean said. “For me to tell you that they need to shoot a certain percentage — it’s not like that. Jordan Hulls has had two tough field goal games against Iowa, and we’re 2-0 this year, and that’s the bottom line.

“Obviously they want to do well individually, and I don’t blame them. We want them to do well individually, but when you win collectively, that’s what you’ve got to focus on.”

Along with playing in their last game in Assembly Hall, Hulls, Watford and Elston will have to deal with the emotion and excitement of trying to clinch an outright Big Ten regular season title, something IU hasn’t done since 1993.

Crean said he knows his seniors will be extra energetic, but he hopes they use that energy in a positive way.

“There will be a lot of emotion surrounding the game and surrounding the building, but the energy and the excitement of the crowd and the excitement of playing has to override it,” Crean said. “We’ve played in a lot of games that have been surrounded by a lot of hype, a lot of hoopla — highly ranked teams, highly ranked television games — but because we came and were able to focus over that, we’ve been better.”

But for a senior class that has gone through some of the roughest moments in IU basketball history, maybe a rough game to lead into senior night is fitting.

Hulls, Elston and Watford went 22-41 in their first two years in the candy stripes as Crean and his coaching staff tried to rebuild the struggling program marred by the transgressions of former IU Coach Kelvin Sampson.

Watford and Hulls were thrown right into the mix their freshman year. Watford has started all but two games during his entire IU career, and Hulls has started every game since his sophomore year.

Because they spent so much of their first two seasons doing whatever they could to scrape together wins, sophomore forward Cody Zeller said stats aren’t as important to the senior class, even if it’s their last game in Assembly Hall.

“What makes those seniors so great is they don’t care about personal stats or anything,” Zeller said. “I think if we come out and play well and win, even if one of them doesn’t play well, I think they’ll be happy just because it’s a big win for us, ending on a win and winning the Big Ten.”

Crean said he has barely let himself focus on the fact that Tuesday night will be the last time he’ll get to watch his first true recruiting class play on Branch McCracken Court. For him, winning Tuesday night is all that matters.

“We have so much in front of us that that’s what you’ve got to keep your focus on,” Crean said. “It hits me at times, it does. I love these guys, but the bottom line is we’re right in the middle of it right now. When you’re right in the middle of it, that’s when you’ve got to keep your focus.

“I don’t see closure in front of us, so that’s what’s most important. Everything’s about getting ready to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

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