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COLUMN

Etherington represents best of IU bench

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Tipoff: Oakland at Indiana, 7 p.m., Tuesday
Radio: 1250-AM
TV: ESPN2

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Hoosiers building impressive depth

Monday, December 9, 2013 - 12:01 am

BLOOMINGTON -- -Austin Etherington is the model, the example, the symbol for Indiana basketball perseverance.

The 6-6 redshirt sophomore is not fazed by minimal playing time or season-ending injury. He does not blink when coach Tom Crean dips into his deep bench and calls another to aid the Hoosier cause.

Etherington works and waits. You bet he does. He grew up in Indiana (an Indiana All-Star for Hamilton Heights High School) and hearkens to those days when so many in-state players yearned to wear candy-striped attire, before siren calls from out-of-state schools broke the monopoly that Indiana and Purdue once held.

Etherington is a bit player in this youth-driven basketball adventure. He has played in eight of IU's nine games, averaging 6.4 minutes and 1.8 points. In 31 career games spread over three seasons he has a grand total of 52 points, 32 rebounds and 31 fouls.

Etherington was recruited as a shooter and, for the most part, it hasn't worked out. It was hoped that he'd be a bigger, more athletic version of three-point specialist Matt Roth, and that hasn't happened, which doesn't mean it never will.

In fact, on Saturday night, against vastly out-gunned North Florida, it did.

In 11 off-the-bench minutes Etherington had a season-high six points. He was 2-for-3 from three-point range, which was huge given he was 3-for-14 for his career entering the game.

Etherington wasn't a game changer in the manner of Yogi Ferrell (14 points, seven assists) or Noah Vonleh (13 points, 11 rebounds) or Jeremy Hollowell (12 points, three rebounds) or Evan Gordon (15 points, four rebounds, two assists).

He was part of a bench that contributed 41 points and 20 rebounds in an 89-68 victory. He was in a group that came in Saturday morning to workout, then went through that afternoon's walk-through, and then came up big that night.

Freshman Stanford Robinson had a career-high eight rebounds, plus six points, two assists and two steals in 17 minutes. Freshman Luke Fischer had a career-high six points and a career-high-tying three rebounds in seven minutes. Sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea had a career-high tying eight points, plus three rebounds, in eight minutes.

Yes, North Florida (5-6) is not No. 4 Syracuse, but that misses the point, which is those contributions were not accidents. It was cause and effect. It was the direct result of all the work put in before the ball was ever tipped.

“Luke and Hanner and Stan and Austin did a fantastic job,” Crean says.

“Everybody is trying to get better. Our guys are learning what they're capable of. We just want to build on it.”

Crean wants a team of 10 starters with enough interchangeable parts so that the Hoosiers can push a pace that will break teams with six- and seven-man rotations. He doesn't want any drop off in performance or energy or resolve. He says he is not committed to any set lineup, although he's been steady with point guard Yogi Ferrell, forward Will Sheehey and freshmen Troy Williams and Vonleh. Those four have started every game.

“I make decisions very clearly going in the game, okay, who gives us the best chance for that defensive energy, for being on the glass, for moving the ball. That means the starting lineup could change from time to time.

“But the bottom line is, when guys are ready and locked into impacting the game the way it needs to be impacted, and not come in thinking I have to shoot, I have to score, I have to drive and get fouled.

“It's more about I've got to get a stop defensively. I've got to communicate. I've got to rotate and block out. When you do those things, it's amazing how much easier the game becomes.”

As for those on the bench, “What we're constantly imploring is to have that concentration and focus while you're sitting out so when you go in, you're absolutely prepared for what's in front of you,” Crean adds.

On Tuesday night IU (7-2) will focus on Oakland University (2-7), which already has lost big at top-25 teams North Carolina, UCLA and Gonzaga, and Crean is well into the scouting report.

“We're playing a team that has won two in a row. They beat Ohio University (Saturday night). They have the leading three-point shooter in makes and attempts in Travis Bader. They're a well-coached team. So we turn right back around and get ready for that one.”

For the record, Bader is 40-for-98 from three-point range and averages 21.1 points. Also for the record, Indiana's top three-point shooter is Ferrell, who is 23-for-56.

But let's get to the point, which is this figures to be blow-out win No. 7 on the season, and the bench figures to get a heavy work load. You'll likely see plenty of Etherington, Robinson, Fischer, Gordon, Perea and maybe even Devin Davis if his injured ankle allows it.

“When guys are really bringing their strengths and they're influencing each others' strengths because of it, that's a good thing,” Crean says. “That can only help us.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.