Saturday was Ugly Sweater Night at Assembly Hall, which was rather indicative of the game played between IU and Savannah State.
The Tigers, who scored only 26 points in a loss against Louisville two weeks ago, entered the game with one of the least effective offenses in the nation. That trend continued Saturday as the Tigers shot just 32 percent from the field in a 95-49 IU victory.
IU Coach Tom Crean spoke highly of his team’s defensive intensity and ability to stay in control for the entire game without overlooking a lesser-known Savannah State team scheduled between Pittsburgh and Louisville.
“We just want our players to continue to understand that they have to be in control of what they can control,” Crean said. “We played hard. We made adjustments. A lot of people contributed.”
The game started with sloppy play on both sides. The teams combined for five turnovers within the game’s opening two minutes as each offense struggled to find a rhythm.
Savannah State (3-6) gave IU (7-1) trouble initially with a full-court press in the game’s opening minutes, something IU will expect to see more of Tuesday against No. 5 Louisville. But as the Tigers went away from the press, the Hoosier offense began to fire on all cylinders.
After trading baskets early on, IU closed the first half on a 31-8 run to take a 43-17 lead into halftime. The Tigers got just two baskets in the last 23 possessions of the first half. Savannah State’s 17 opening-half points were the fewest for an IU opponent in a half since Iowa scored just 14 on March 3, 2013.
Junior guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell credited IU’s ability to limit Savannah State to sparking the Hoosier offense.
“I’d say the way we played defense, it led to our offense,” Ferrell said. “We wanted to close out the first half with a strong, you could say, finish, just for that half. I think we did that in that run.”
Crean began emptying his bench early in the second half. Five minutes into the period, fans had begun chants of “We want Priller” in reference to wanting to see fan-favorite freshman forward Tim Priller take the floor. He would, and so would 13 other Hoosiers, 10 of whom contributed points.
The scoring was led by Ferrell and freshman guard James Blackmon Jr., who both had a team-high 18 points. Sophomore forward Troy Williams added 12 points, and freshman guard Rob Johnson had 10 points to go along with a team-high seven rebounds.
Although rebounding has been an area of weakness for IU at times this season, that wasn’t the case Saturday.
After being outrebounded by eight against Pittsburgh, Crean emphasized rebounding technique in practice, which seemed to pay off as IU outrebounded Savannah State 42-24.
“Really, the coaches emphasized on cracking them, blocking out,” Blackmon said. “We took a lot for not outrebounding Pittsburgh, so coming in here, we wanted to make that a statement.”
The reality is, not all games will be that easy. With a Tuesday matchup against No. 5 Louisville looming, the Hoosiers will look to carry the momentum of a blowout win with them to New York.
Crean voiced concerns about his team overlooking the Tigers, but there was no need to worry about that on Saturday.
After losing earlier to Eastern Washington, Ferrell said he’s trying to treat every game equally and even said he tried to treat playing Savannah State like playing for a national championship.
There won’t be a banner for a December home win against a weaker nonconference opponent any time soon, but on a day when Purdue lost to North Florida and Michigan lost to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, IU wouldn’t allow Savannah State to stick around.
“Really, we learned from our Eastern Washington game that if you don’t get up for a team from the start, they start to gain confidence and they think that they can play with you,” Blackmon said. “So tonight we just wanted to start from the beginning, and that’s what we did.”