IU Coach Tom Crean said Tuesday night’s battle with LIU Brooklyn, a No. 16 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, wasn’t a game where “we get on a yellow school bus and we’re supposed to win by 30 ‘cause it’s us.”
In fact, they had to battle until the closing seconds and pray as a shot floated through the air to be sure they would win at all.
With a three-pointer from sophomore Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell just 13 seconds into IU’s second game of the season, the Hoosiers more than struggled from the field for the rest of the first half and went into the locker room down three.
After Ferrell’s long jumper, the Hoosiers missed their next 16 shots from behind the arc, and none of Crean’s players suffered worse than senior forward Will Sheehey, who shot 0-6 from behind the arc in the first half.
The lone senior, Ferrell said after the game the Blackbirds were playing a stifling defense in the paint, respecting IU’s length, strength and skills driving in the paint.
They were asking IU to win with the mid-range shooting.
“They didn’t have a lot of respect for our outside shooting game, and I don’t blame them,” Crean said. “What was there for us was not what we needed to take, and that’s why early on in the game we took so many jump shots rather than diving into what the game was giving us.”
Rather than attacking and racking up the fouls like Friday night, Sheehey and his teammates continued to force guarded three-pointers that clanked off the rim.
Ferrell said after the game he isn’t worried about his team’s shooting capabilities behind the arc, and Crean said he doesn’t want his players to get tentative from a rough half of shooting.
“We don’t want people to stop shooting,” Crean said. “We want people to understand what the best shot is.”
IU managed to battle back early, but LIU Brooklyn distanced themselves with a three-pointer of their own from Troy Joseph, and with that, the Blackbirds led 16-10.
Freshman forward Noah Vonleh broke IU’s scoreless streak of five minutes and 49
seconds with a hook shot in the lane with 10 minutes and four seconds left in the half to close the defecit to six.
It would get to as big as nine before the Hoosiers clawed back and went into the locker room down just three.
In the first 20 minutes, the Hoosiers shot just 11-for-40 from the field and had Ferrell’s lone three-pointer for their 17 shots behind the arc.
But things changed in a hurry in the second half.
After trading a few buckets, Sheehey took over. He would score all six of his field goals in the final 20 minutes to go along with four first-half free throws for 19 points to lead the Hoosiers.
His first bucket came at the 17 minutes and 35 seconds mark of the second half, giving the Hoosiers their first lead since 12 minutes and 46 seconds left in the first.
Ferrell said the Hoosiers slowed the game down in the final 20 minutes, stayed calm, and looked for open players, whether they were slicing through the lane or on the perimeter. Crean added afterwards that he thinks the Hoosiers have the top cutter in college basketball: Sheehey.
“In the second half, we just started slowing things down, kept reversing the ball,” Ferrell said. “(We would) kick it to Will. He had the baseline open, and he’d drive it. He’d either score it, get fouled or get back for that open shot. That was a pretty big part.”
Sheehey sunk his first of three three-pointers of the night with 13 minutes and 42 seconds remaining from the right corner to close a five-point deficit to just two points.
The Blackbirds continued to hang around with their own deft three-pointers and the passing skills of senior guard Jason Brickman.
Joseph hit another three to break a 58-all tie with 7:02 to go, but Sheehey pulled through with two dagger threes to keep LIU Brooklyn at a distance in the closing minutes.
Brickman pulled down a defensive rebound off a missed free throw from freshman forward Devin Davis with 4.8 seconds left, and he heaved one from 25 feet as the buzzer sounded, but it fell short, as the Hoosiers walked off the court with a narrow victory to begin the 2K Sports Classic.
Ahead a single point at the buzzer, Crean said he knew his team didn’t cruise through for a victory Tuesday night, but he didn’t expect to.
“I think we really had to win tonight,” he said. “I think we won.”
Follow reporter Nathan Brown on Twitter @nathan_brown10.