The junior guard shot 1-of-9 from the floor and had just seven points. He missed five of his six 3-point attempts and a few of those shots weren’t even close.
But he had nine assists and only one turnover. His steal with 73 seconds left in a tie game led to an assist on what proved to be the game-winning 3-point bucket by freshman guard James Blackmon Jr.
Ferrell’s scoring output wasn’t gaudy. That’s not what this IU team needs from him. On the contrary, scoring is only part of what the Hoosiers relied on Ferrell for against Illinois as they do night in and ?night out.
“Leadership,” Crean said. “We’re asking a lot of him. It’s all about moving him around. When you have guys like Yogi that can do so many different things, the key is to make sure they understand they can do a lot of different things. The number one thing Yogi’s got to be is a leader.”
Unlike last season on a team desperate for scorers, Ferrell no longer needs to light up the scoreboard by himself.
He has weapons like Blackmon and sophomore forward Troy Williams who both dropped 21 points against the Illini. He has freshman guard Robert Johnson scoring 20 points against Penn State and key role players like junior guard Nick Zeisloft who connected on three 3-pointers Sunday.
It’s not that Ferrell isn’t capable of taking a game over on offense. He’s proven he still has that in him.
He scored 27 points against Georgetown less than a month ago after carrying IU to a win against Butler with 18 second-half points.
But by opting to play to the strengths of his teammates, Ferrell is making the whole Hoosier team better, Crean said.
Ferrell is creating balance. One player having an off night doesn’t sink IU’s chances of winning.
“Just his presence helps us all the time,” Zeisloft said. “He’s a great leader. I’m lucky to have him on my team.”
Ferrell averaged 17.3 points per game last year but is down to 15.4 this season.
While his scoring has dipped, his assist total has risen. He’s averaging 4.8 assists per game, which is just over one more per game than last year. In three Big Ten wins against Nebraska, Penn State and Illinois, Ferrell has combined for 23 ?assists.
He also averaged 3.7 assists in those three games.
Ferrell’s still causing havoc for opponents. It’s just in a different way.
It’s through orchestrating the offense and on defense where he continues to receive praise from not only Crean, but teammates and opposing coaches as well.
But, as Blackmon points out, he’s still a constant threat to score, too.
“Yogi can score and facilitate,” he said. “Whenever he’s in attack mode, we’re at our best.”
Ferrell played 38 of 40 minutes against Illinois. Just barely after he could catch his breath on the bench after subbing out midway through the first half, Crean was already calling for him to come back in.
He didn’t step off the court the entire second half.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In IU’s last seven games, he’s played more than 35 minutes each time. His season-high was 41 minutes against Georgetown.
He’d be averaging even more minutes per game had it not been for a handful of blowout wins in the early stages of nonconference play.
His scoring could be higher, too. But Ferrell has said it’s the wins that are more important.
IU is 2-2 as a team in games that Ferrell drops 20 points or more this year. In games where he scores 10 points or fewer, like against Illinois on Sunday, IU is a perfect 4-0.
That doesn’t mean Ferrell will be purposely passing up shots any time soon. It just may mean he’ll be less hesitant when he does.
“He’s growing in a lot of ways,” Crean said. “Here again today, he’s the happiest guy. Would he like to score more? Would he like to shoot better? Absolutely.
“But he impacted the game on both ends in a big way. So he’s very happy.”