No. 15 IU jumped out to a hot start against Eastern Illinois in its season opener Friday night and coasted to an 88-49 victory, fueled by dominance on the boards and a balanced scoring attack.
With the exception of IU’s poor free throw shooting and the team’s foul total, it was difficult to find too many negatives — in the box score or on the court — with the Hoosiers’ play.
EIU led 5-2 — its largest lead of the game — in the opening minutes, but sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. tied the game with a 3-pointer from the left wing, and IU never looked back. Blackmon Jr. was one of five Hoosiers to flirt with a double-double, scoring a game-high 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Senior guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell recorded 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists, while extending his streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 66.
The Hoosiers flexed their rebounding muscles, especially on the offensive glass, to maximize their possessions and record an extensive tally of second chance points.
Senior forward Max Bielfeldt, who scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds in his official IU debut, credited the team’s aggressiveness for its dominance on the boards. The Hoosiers outrebounded the Panthers 51-17, including a 21-5 advantage on offensive rebounds. IU’s guards accounted for 19 of the team’s rebounds, showing a team-wide effort to box out.
“We had a lot of guys crash the glass at all times, and if it wasn’t the four of five getting it, Yogi was in there getting a hand on it, someone else could get it,” Bielfeldt said. “It was a really good team effort on the boards, just a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Assembly Hall’s noise level crescendoed with just more than four minutes left in the first half when Ferrell corralled a missed 3-pointer from sophomore guard Robert Johnson and knocked down a short-range jumper in the lane to put his team up by 20 points.
With the crowd on its feet, IU’s defense forced EIU point guard Cornell Johnston out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Hoosiers. The crowd erupted as freshman center Thomas Bryant waved his towel on the bench and pumped up the crowd, sparking a “Hoo, Hoo, Hoosiers” chant.
IU clamped down defensively and ended the half on a lopsided scoring run — 21-1 in the last 6:35 of play, 27-3 in the last 8:48 and 47-12 in the last 18:18.
“We wanted to get our defense to a point where it was creating our offense for us and have our defensive energy lead the way with the offensive responsibilities we would have with getting the ball down the court,” IU Coach Tom Crean said.
The joint defensive effort by Ferrell and sophomore guard Robert Johnson to apply full-court, on-ball pressure against Johnston took EIU out of its element offensively.
“That’s something we want to do this year,” Johnson said. “We want to play a little bit faster, especially on defense with the protection we have in the back now with a couple bigger guys, so at times we’ll get up full-court and pressure the ball.”
Eastern Illinois committed nine first-half turnovers and only snagged six rebounds before halftime, the same number Bielfeldt and junior forward Troy Williams each pulled down individually.
The Hoosiers couldn’t keep pace with their collective first-half play after halftime, only outscoring EIU by seven after the break, but IU had built enough of a lead to allow Crean to empty his bench, as all three walk-ons and fan-favorite sophomore forward Tim Priller got playing time.
“I saw very little let up and we played a lot of different lineups, especially in the second half,” Crean said. “I was proud of our effort and really proud of their energy, proud of the way they’ve responded this week to getting better. And now our whole key is can we continue to improve?”
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