James Blackmon Jr. made sure to leave no doubt he was the reigning Big Ten player of the week Wednesday night against University of Massachusetts Lowell.
In front of the home crowd for the first time this season, the junior guard followed up his 26-point outburst against Kansas in the season opener with 23 points, all in the first 23 minutes, against UMass Lowell.
After shooting lights out in the second half against the Jayhawks to lead the Hoosiers to victory last week, Blackmon played the role of the igniter in the first half against the River Hawks as the Hoosiers cruised to a 100-78 victory to open the home stanza.
“When guys scout James, they already know he’s a scorer,” sophomore forward Juwan Morgan said. “When he’s locked in, even when they’re keying in on him, he’s still scoring, still driving and making plays. That just opens up more things like back cuts, extra passes, throwing it inside to the post and they have to respect him.”
IU struggled for the first 10 minutes of the game and were tied at 18 with UMass Lowell. Blackmon tallied five early points in the matchup before heading to the bench for a breather.
When the Marion, Indiana, native checked back in the game with 9:47 left in the first, IU rode his hot hand.
Blackmon didn’t miss a shot in that span to close out the half. He was a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, hitting two layups and nailing two of three attempts from the foul line.
His 20 first-half points gave him back-to-back halves with 20 or more points dating back to last game, and IU went on a 35-18 run to give itself a comfortable 17-point lead at the break.
“Obviously James’ first half was excellent, especially because the way the ball was moving,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “And I thought he did a really good job facilitating and moving the ball in the second half.”
The Hoosier defense continued to get stops, and junior guard Robert Johnson and sophomore forward OG Anunoby elevated their play with nine points each.
Blackmon was just 1-of-3 from the field with 3 points.
A mature moment in Blackmon’s game came after sophomore forward Thomas Bryant finished an and-one.
On the previous defensive possession, Blackmon lost his man as the River Hawks drove to the basket for an easy lay-up. The junior guard immediately motioned to Bryant looking for help on the dribble drive, and after the sophomore from Rochester, New York, was fouled on the other end, the two discussed the previous defensive possession in the huddle.
“In our huddles, that’s where we try to figure out issues that we’ve been having during the game,” Johnson said. “It was probably something defensively that we didn’t do a good job communicating with, so he was probably just trying to fix it.”
Crean said you can’t help but be impressed with the work ethic Blackmon’s put in since returning from the ACL injury, adding he is a lot more explosive than he was before the injury.
“He could always dunk and things like that,” Crean said. “But he’s playing with more force, he’s playing downhill more, he’s covering more ground, and to come back from an injury like that and be a better athlete than he already was and stronger, that takes a little bit for him to get used to.”
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