BLOOMINGTON - For Indiana freshman Maurice Creek, familiarity breeds … what? Contempt? Not a chance. Motivation? Absolutely.
Creek is a Maryland native who never figured to play against the college basketball team he grew up watching. But thanks to the twists of the scheduling gods, his journey to Indiana includes tonight's Big Ten-ACC Challenge Assembly Hall shot against Maryland.
Yes, it's personal for him.
“It's the school I followed since I was a baby,” Creek said. “It's a real big game for me. I want to play the best I can and hopefully we get a win.”
The 6-5 Creek's best so far has been impressive. He leads the Hoosiers in scoring (16.3 points) and has scored in double figures in every game this season. He was a prep school All-American averaging 18.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a senior.
All that takes a backseat to winning.
“This is the kind of game we need to win,” Creek said.
Maryland's 4-0 start pushed it into the top 25. But two straight losses - to Cincinnati and Wisconsin - have slowed the Terrapins' momentum. That's good news for a youthful IU team (3-3) still searching for its identity.
“We're just trying to build up wins,” Creek said.
Maryland is a veteran team with four players scoring in double figures and plenty of size and experience. Normally Challenge schedulers try for balanced matchups, so that a Big Ten favorite meets an ACC favorite, a weaker Big Ten faces a weaker ACC opponent.
That didn't happen last year when the Hoosiers got powerhouse Wake Forest, and it didn't happen again this season. That's why coach Tom Crean pushes for every advantage he can get. That includes the crowd.
“We need a packed house,” he said. “We have to have the crowd help us in every possible way.
“Frankly, these games are stretches for our program right now to be playing teams that good. I'm not shying away from that. That's part of being at Indiana. I get that. I welcome that.
“But we have a very young team getting ready to play one of the oldest teams in the country. We have to have incredible energy in this building. We need everybody in here to make this place nuts.
“We will be prepared. We will be ready to play. What that means, I don't know, but everything we can control, we will control.”
This is the first of a grueling three-game stretch - the others are Pitt (5-1) and Kentucky (7-0) - that could break a young team. Creek sees it differently.
“These are big games,” he said. “These will put us over the hump. After this, people will recognize who we are and who Indiana is.”
These kinds of games, freshman forward Christian Watford said, make players want to come to a tradition-rich school such as Indiana.
“Indiana is one of the six big schools (in the country),” he said. “When you come here you want to be put on the big stage. You want to perform well.”