PORTLAND, Ore. -- So now America knows what Indiana has known for a long time:
Jordan Hulls can shoot.
Here's something else, despite what some anonymous critics have claimed -- the junior guard can play defense.
We'll show how in a moment.
Hulls scored 22 points to lead IU to a 79-66 victory over New Mexico State in Thursday night's South Regional opening round game. Hulls was 8-for-12 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range, 3-for-3 in the second half, when he scored 19 points.
That might seem impressive, but coach Tom Crean has seen better from Hulls.
A lot better.
Yes, Hulls was 7-for-9 from three-point range for 28 points in a January win over Penn State, but that's not the best.
Take, for instance, Tuesday.
Crean has a three-point shooting drill -- one ball, one rebounder, and one shooter. You move around the perimeter trying to make as many three-pointers as you can in five minutes. Stamina as well as accuracy is involved. Crean said a former player of his from Marquette, Steve Novak, exceled as a 3-point shooter (and still does with the NBA's New York Knicks).
At the end of a practice at the University of Portland, Crean did the three-point drill.
“I'll give you an example of how hard this is,” Crean said. “The most Steve ever made in this drill was 72. Jordan averages 74. The other day he made 85.”
Hulls doesn't lack for shooting confidence, although you won't hear that from him. He shows it with his play. His first three-point attempt Thursday night swirled in and out, a narrow miss that might have rattled a lesser shooter. Instead, about 30 seconds later, Hulls drained his first three-point basket.
New Mexico State was in trouble.
“I hit the first shot, and it started feeling a little better when it was leaving my hands and I knocked down some shots,” he said. “But I got the majority of my shots from teammates setting up good screens for me.”
Those teammates aren't fools, said one of them, forward Christian Watford.
“You just keep feeding him,” Watford said. “That's what you need to do when he gets hot like that.”
Added forward Derek Elston: “When he gets hot, he starts doing some ridiculous things. Once he starts hitting threes, it's hard to stop him. When you're on the bench watching, you can have fun with it.”
It wasn't fun for New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies.
“You've got to give the kid credit,”Menzies said. “We tried to go zone for a couple of possessions and he hits two threes in that stretch.”
Some of it, Menzies added, came because the Aggies were focused on stopping Cody Zeller inside. Zeller still totaled 14 points on nine shots. He also set a school NCAA tourney record with six steals, one more than Quinn Buckner had in the 1976 national title game win over Michigan.
“You've got to give up something to get something sometimes,” Menzies said. “When they get that two-headed monster working, it's tough to battle back.”
As far as Hulls' defense, consider a recent column by Sports Illustrated (and CBS analyst) Seth Davis in which anonymous Big Ten assistant coaches reportedly said Hulls was one of the country's worst defenders.
In the second half Thursday night, with New Mexico State pushing frantically for a comeback, guard Hernst Laroche had a fast-break opportunity with Hulls the only defender who could stop him. He cut in front of Laroche and planted strong with arms straight up, pressuring Laroche into a travel and turnover. Hulls also finished with three steals.
“It's great to see him play like that,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “He deserves it with how hard he works. Hopefully he can continue to keep leading us through the whole tournament.”
The fourth-seeded Hoosiers (26-8) advanced to Saturday's round of 32 game against 12th-seeded VCU (29-6). Tipoff is set for 7:10 p.m. The winner will advance to Atlanta for the Sweet Sixteen.
IU won its first NCAA tourney game since2007 in its first NCAA tourney appearance since 2008. That was especially significant for senior forward Tom Pritchard.
“It's great, especially since this will be my only NCAA tournament,” Pritchard said. “I'm going to enjoy every second of it, and then get ready for the next game.”
IU shut down New Mexico State's vaunted free-throw-producing attack. The Aggies, who averaged 29.6 free throw attempts a game, were just 8-for-10.
“It was positioning,” Crean said. “It was technique. It was our guys moving their feet. Our whole thing was to attack on offense, have verticality on defense and block out like crazy. And we did that.”
Nerves and New Mexico State's pressure defense produced turnovers on IU's first two possessions. Then the Hoosiers settled down and bolted to a 14-4 lead that included a Zeller dunk and a pair of Will Sheehey layups.
The Aggies didn't get their first free throw attempt until the 8:58 mark, when Tyrone Watson hit a pair. They slowly closed the gap, getting it to five before IU ended the half ahead 35-28.
Hulls came out firing to start the second half. He had nine points in the first seven minutes as IU pushed ahead 56-38.
The Aggies were finished, but the Hoosiers certainly aren't.
“It's satisfying,” Watford said, “but we keep on moving to the next game. We're not just satisfied with just one win.”