IU avenged its 2014 loss to University of Ottawa with an 82-54 victory in its first exhibition matchup of the season. Two summers ago, Ottawa rode a hot shooting effort from 3-point range to a 109-101 victory in Quebec, but IU held Ottawa’s crafty point guard Mike L’Africain and the rest of the Gee-Gees’ shooters in check Tuesday night.
A sour taste lingered in IU’s mouth following last year’s loss.
“The guys that were here last year, we all talked about that to the freshmen, to (graduate transfer) Max (Bielfeldt),” said sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr., who scored a team-high 15 points. “We talked it out and said if it’s a close game at the end, they could go on a run, so we just wanted to shut that down.”
The visitors scored the first basket of the game but never led again as they failed to get into a rhythm offensively and couldn’t compete with IU’s size or energy in the post.
The Hoosier defense was the least efficient in the Big Ten by a large margin last season, but it showed signs of improvement in its first outing. Ottawa had a dry spell of more than eight minutes in the second half, and IU capitalized on it by ending the game on a 25-3 run.
“The quicker you form an identity that you can carry with you — home, road, no matter who you’re playing — the better off you’re going to be,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “The bottom line is creating an identity with the defense, with the pressure.”
Known for their outside shooting and high-powered offense, averaging 94.1 points per game on 42.8 percent 3-point shooting entering Tuesday, the Gee-Gees were just 5-of-26 — 19 percent — from distance. IU forced 23 turnovers and blocked six shots.
Ottawa cut IU’s lead to five late in the first half, but the visitors couldn’t keep up with their hosts as the Hoosiers emptied their bench in the blowout victory.
“The highlights of the night for me are the way we came back,” Crean said. “There are so many things that happen within a game where momentum’s up for grabs.”
Against Ottawa, IU unveiled a new starting lineup, featuring newcomers freshman center Thomas Bryant and redshirt senior Bielfeldt in the frontcourt and junior wing Troy Williams at the 3-spot. Senior point guard Yogi Ferrell and Blackmon Jr. manned the team’s backcourt.
Crean deflected attention about IU’s starting lineup in the post-game press conference, as he said the team doesn’t have a set starting lineup, with the exclusion of Ferrell’s spot cemented in the team’s backcourt. However, Crean did acknowledge IU’s starting lineup had the best plus-minus total of any combination used Tuesday.
While IU’s coach said the starting lineup combinations are irrelevant at this point in the season, the added size paid dividends. The Hoosiers had a plus-12 rebounding advantage and doubled Ottawa’s points in the paint, 44-22.
With Williams’ sliding to small forward from the undersized power forward position he often played last season, IU’s frontcourt starters combined for 32 points and 28 rebounds.
“The numbers look good, and now we’ll see if the film backs it up,” Crean said of the frontcourt combination.
Thirteen players saw action as fan favorite sophomore forward Tim Priller and walk-on freshman Harrison Niego subbed into the game in the waning minutes after IU had secured the victory.
Williams and Bryant were tied for second on the team in scoring with 12 points apiece while Ferrell chipped in 11.
IU made nearly half of its field goal attempts and shot 40 percent from 3-point range while playing stout defense against the No. 1 team in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport preseason poll. The Hoosiers will play another No. 1 ranked team at 7 p.m. Monday when Division II power Bellarmine travels to Bloomington for an exhibition matchup.
“It’s by design,” Crean said of IU’s exhibition schedule, “to give ourselves a chance to go against those types of teams. We’ll learn from this, and we’ll learn from them.”
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