And then, suddenly, it clicked.
Well, sort of.
Welcome to an unexpected — and unwelcome — Assembly Hall cliffhanger.
For longer than seemed possible Tuesday night, Crean, Indiana's non-stop basketball coach, couldn't get his Hoosiers to stop shooting three-pointers, run the offense or play game-changing defense against 21-point underdog LIU-Brooklyn.
If it wasn't for heralded freshman Noah Vonleh, the game might have been over by halftime.
If it wasn't for senior Will Sheehey shooting his way out of a slump, the game might have been lost down the stretch.
Instead, the youthful Hoosiers (2-0) got it right, or at least right enough to manage a 73-72 victory in an opening round game of the 2K Sports Classic.
"This was a great learning experience in many ways," Crean said. "If we didn't have the capacity to get better and improve inside the game, if we didn't understand what the game was giving us, we'd have lost by 14, 15 points."
Sheehey finished with 19 points, 15 in the second half. Vonleh had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Point guard Yogi Ferrell had 17.
LIU Brooklyn (1-1) was led by guard Troy Jospeh's 16 points.
Indiana came back with a strong second half that included 11 assists against six turnovers and 60 percent three-point shooting.
"(In the first half), we settled, myself included, for the outside shot," Sheehey said. "They were daring us to shoot and we shot it, which isn't what you should do. Eventually we figured out how to win."
How bad was the first half? IU hit its first three-pointer courtesy of Ferrell, then missed 16 straight to end the first half. It had eight turnovers against two assists. It shot just 27.5 percent from the field.
At one point it trailed by nine, and was reeling as it hadn't since Crean's debut season of 2008-09.
A lot of that was by NIU Brooklyn coach Jack Perri design. He'd seen that the Hoosiers had gone just 1-for-8 from three-point range in their season-opening win over Chicago State. He knew they were young and unproven from beyond the arc.
His strategy — try to force IU into a three-point shooting contest.
For a half, it worked.
"I thought our best chance was to force them to shoot the three and crowd the paint," Perri said. "In their first game they shot 55 free throws. Their players are so athletic and long. We thought we needed to force them to make shots."
Despite all that, Indiana trailed just 36-33 at halftime. Vonleh was the catalyst with 11 points and four rebounds. Ferrell had nine points.
IU opened 1-for-8 from three-point range with four turnovers, yet still led 10-7. Then Long Island, behind guard Gilbert Parga, surged to a near double-digit lead before the Hoosiers settled down enough to close within range by halftime.
A Sheehey jumper put IU ahead 41-40 early in the second half. The Blackbirds pushed ahead by five. The Hoosiers surged back for a 55-52 lead. LIU forged a tie. The clock ticked under 10 minutes, then nine. Both offenses hit a deep freeze.
A Ferrell three-pointer pushed the Hoosiers ahead 58-55. Consecutive LIU three-pointers gave it a three-point cushion.
IU went ahead 73-70 on a Sheehey three-pointer. LIU closed within one on a pair of Jason Brickman free throws..
Both teams had chances in the final minute, before the Hoosiers survived when Brickman's desperation three-pointer came up just short.
"At the end we had more of a will," Ferrell said, "to get the defensive stop."