“We'll be shooting around in practice and he'll do stuff like that,” guard Verdell Jones said. “We're like, What are you doing? What you didn't know was that he was practicing for games like this.”
Practice a left-handed three-pointer?
“That was impressive,” coach Tom Crean said. “Our coaches and players are not shocked. We see him do that a lot when he warms up and just shooting before or after practice. He's very gifted with both hands. I don't think he would have taken it that way if he didn't feel he could make it.”
Nearly all the Hoosiers had a can't-miss feeling in their 107-50 victory that showed letup isn't part of this team's make up.
But then, who has time for a letup when there's history to match. The No. 17 Hoosiers are 11-0. The last IU team to start like that was the 1976 national title squad that finished 32-0 and remains the last undefeated college champion.
“It means a lot,” guard Will Sheehey said. “Coach Crean talks about making history. That's what we're trying to do.”
Crean knows Indiana's title-winning tradition as well as anyone. It's among the reasons why he came to Bloomington. And if it helps keep the Hoosiers sharp against mediocre competition, and Howard (3-9) qualified for that status, why not?
“We wanted to join some elite company,” Crean said. “There's no way around that. Only a few teams in this history of program started 11-0. We wanted to join them.”
Only three other IU teams have started 11-0 – in 1942-43, in 1974-75 and in 1975-76.
“When you have a chance to compare yourself to something that's been part of the past here, with getting to 11-0, that's a big deal,” Crean said. “It's a real big deal. But we'll stay in the moment. We put things out for the team that they could be known for, but we don't overdramatize it.”
There wasn't much drama Monday night. The score was tied at 5-5 before IU ended the half with a 47-10 run en route to its biggest victory since beating Notre Dame by 65 points in1971.
“We had to be focused,” Jones said. “With Christmas coming up, after playing Notre Dame and Kentucky, this could have been a game to let up. But we came out focused and attacked. We got the win.”
Hulls' 16 points and 4-for-5 three-point shooting made him the best of six double-figure Hoosier scorers and helped them score their most points since getting 108 against George Washington in a 1998 NCAA tourney first-round game. They shot 67.3 percent from the field and set a Crean-era record with 27 assists against eight turnovers.
“To have the most assists we've had in our time here, especially as much as we drive, it's not common to have numbers like that,” Crean said. “These guys did a great job of making the next pass.”
Crean got no argument from Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry.
“We were hoping they'd be under-estimating us,” he said. “They came out as hungry as I've ever seen them.”
Howard challenged for about six minutes. Then IU flexed its defensive and offensive muscles. In four minutes the Hoosiers turned a four-point lead into a 20-point advantage.
After 13 minutes the Hoosiers had eight three-pointers and a 24-point lead. By halftime it was 52-15. Howard shot 18.8 percent with eight turnovers. IU shot 66.7 percent, including 9-for-14 from three-point range.
The second half was target practice, and the Hoosiers stayed on target. Drama was left for when all the starters were pulled. For the record, that came at the 5:06 mark. By then, six Hoosiers had scored in double figures, with Cody Zeller being the last with 7:18 left.
“We have played some good teams this year,” Nickelberry said. “This was probably the best team we've played.”