BLOOMINGTON -- Not ready to play? Are you nuts? There was no way Indiana senior forward Derek Elston was going to pass on coach Tom Crean's playing offer.
Elston had spent the last month and a half waiting for his surgically fixed knee to heal enough to get a chance, any chance.
On Wednesday afternoon, a couple of hours before the Hoosiers' 11th game, it came. Crean asked Elston if he was ready to play.
“There's no way I would have said no,” Elston said. “I've been on the bench for so long. If I could have gone out there to wipe down the floor when these guys were out there sweating on it, I would have. No matter what I would have said yes.
Elston didn't have to wipe off sweat. He got nine minutes and produced two points, two rebounds and one block (of a three-point attempt) in Indiana's 93-54 win over Mount St. Mary's.
“It's fantastic (to have him back),” swingman Will Sheehey said. “He brings multiple things on and off the court. He's been working hard to get back, ahead of schedule. We want him to continue progressing.”
Elston tore cartilage in his left knee in late October. He was projected to return around Christmas, but made it back a week early. His strong warm-up before Saturday's Butler loss helped earn him practice time. That led to Crean's offer and Elston's instance acceptance.
“We felt good about it,” Crean said. “(Tuesday) when we brought him back, his energy was good.
“It would have been a bit of a reach to play him on Saturday (against Butler). He recovered at a good pace. It's great to have him out there. He did a good job.”
Elston entered the game at the 9:59 mark to a standing ovation.
“That showed they hadn't forgotten about me,” he said. “That made me feel special.”
When healthy the 6-8 Elston provides rebounding, shooting and inside depth. Crean considers him one of IU's seven starters, although Elston said he has a ways to go to regain full strength.
“I felt comfortable. I've been practicing for a little bit here or there, but I haven't gone 40 minutes or full court, so that part was fuzzy. Conditioning-wise, I'm not there yet. My legs are a little woozy, but once I settled down and Coach Crean told me to play my game and don't try to do anything I wouldn't normally do, I felt fine.”
The No. 6 Hoosiers (10-1) bounced back big from the Butler loss behind brutally efficient offense and offense-wrecking defense.
The Mountaineers (4-5) helped with a deer-in-the-Assembly-Hall-lights performance.
"Our kids did some good things," Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian said, "but sometimes you're just a little out-manned."
IU shot 70.6 percent from the field. That's the fourth-best field goal percentage in school history, and its best since shooting 71.1 percent against Michigan State in 1989. It had 27 assists on 36 baskets.
“We moved the ball extremely well,” Crean said. “We kept the pace moving. Twenty-seven assists is outstanding.”
So was Indiana's 41-18 rebounding edge. Rebounds were a major point of emphasis the last few days after losing the rebound battle against Butler. The plus-23 edge was a season high for the Hoosiers, who rank fifth nationally with a 12.2 rebounding advantage.
“We needed to fix some technique things and we did a better job,” Crean said.
Indiana held Mount St. Mary's to 31.5 percent shooting. The Mountaineers had 17 turnovers and just six assists.
“That is a national championship caliber team,” Christian said. “They show how guys who are used to playing together, who mature together, can play. That's why they're tough to beat.”
IU was tough despite losing guard Maurice Creek indefinitely to a foot injury and dealing with illness to players, coaches and staff. Team trainer Tim Garl was so sick he slept in his office during the game.
“We had coaches in the sick bay most of the day,” Crean said. “You have to keep moving forward no matter what.”
Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey led IU with 16 points each. Yogi Ferrell had a career-high nine assists.
Freshman forward Hanner Perea, in his second game, had one rebound and one steal in 10 minutes. His freshman mistake (fouling a Mount St. Mary's three-point shooter) resulted in sideline instruction from Crean.
IU opened sluggish against the Mountaineers but picked up the pace in the last 10 minutes. It had a 28-12 run in that stretch, including a 9-0 run to end the half. The fast finish enabled the Hoosiers to shoot 72.0 percent for the first 20 minutes to Mount St. Mary's 36.4 percent and take a 46-29 halftime lead.
IU opened the second half on an 11-0 run to ensure there would be no upset.
The Hoosiers have a short turnaround before hosting Florida International Friday night.
“We came out with great energy,” said guard Remy Abell, who came off the bench to total 12 points, six rebounds and four assists. “What happened in the past (against Butler) is in the past. We have to move forward and get to the next game.”