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COLUMN

Does IU have basketball reasons to worry?

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Tipoff: Kennesaw State at Indiana, noon, Sunday.
Radio: 1250-AM
TV: BTN

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

Hoosiers win rough over Nicholls State

Saturday, December 21, 2013 - 2:59 am

BLOOMINGTON – What did Indiana get out of its 79-66 win over Nicholls State?

A reason to worry?

Sure.

More coaching points to deliver?

Certainly.

Reassurance that it is Big Ten ready?

Are you nuts?

If the Hoosiers (9-3) play like this in the Big Ten, they won't win a game. They won't come close to winning a game.

The good news – they have 11 days, and one patsy in Kennesaw State (3-9), to get it right.

Will they?

It's up to them.

IU played to the level of its Friday night competition, which would have been fine if it was playing, say, Duke.

It was not.

Nicholls State (3-6) is another one of those guarantee-game teams designed to provide home victories, and it succeeded.

The Hoosiers won ugly, in part by design. Coach Tom Crean had them do things they hadn't really done before, such as a lot of full-court pressure and mixing a bunch of defenses. Eighteen guys played (former IPFW guard Jonny Marlin had a season-high six minutes), substitutions came at a machine gun pace and it didn't always produce basketball as art.

“We kept mixing it up,” Crean said, “and any time you have a situation like that, it's not going to be as smooth, but it certainly gives us something to work with and build on.”

In other words, “We wanted to bring pace to the game no matter what the other team wanted to do.

“The press is supposed to bring fatigue to the game without fatiguing you, and at the same time we wanted guys to play to exhaustion and then come out.”

Mission accomplished. Nobody played more than Yogi Ferrell's 27 minutes. Eleven played at least 11 minutes.

“We made progress,” Crean said. “It's definitely something we can build on.”

Still, you can't have 20 turnovers . You just can't. The fact IU put up those numbers against Nicholls State, which will never be confused with Ohio State, is perhaps the No. 1 reason to worry.

This isn't a fluke. IU's assist-to-turnover ratio is the Big Ten's worst. Nine times the Hoosiers have had more turnovers than assists.

Senior swingman Will Sheehey seemed confident the problem will be fixed.

“We'll be fine with the turnovers. We'll come back.”

IU was favored by 28 points, led by 15 at halftime and won by 13. That's a problem. You could blame finals week distraction, a painfully young team and the fact Nicholls State will never fire the spirit the way, say, Purdue will.

“We've had a very long week,” Crean said. “Not only is this the first time through for the young players with games, but their first time through exams at this level of academics. I get that. It's not an excuse. You have to get them to push through it.”

A mature, focused team wins this game by 40. The outcome is settled in the first eight minutes.

That didn't happen, and so the growing pains continue.

“There are things we certainly have to clean up,” Crean said. “It's all a matter of getting guys to understand that the greatest form of toughness is your consistency. We've got to become a consistent team. If we do, we'll be a lot better and tougher in a lot of different areas.”

There were bright spots. IU shot 54.5 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent in the second half. It was 4-for-6 from three-point range in the second half. It won its eighth straight home game and its 37th straight non-conference home game. It is 43-3 at Assembly Hall since the 2011-12 season, which ties Syracuse for the most home wins during that stretch.

Ferrell had 16 points (10 in the second half) and eight assists, although his four turnovers have to be cleaned up. Sheehey had 14 points and was 2-for-2 on three-pointers, but the fact he had just one rebound remains an Achilles heel that can't continue. Jeremy Hollowell was solid with 14 points and three rebounds in 21 minutes.

In the first half, IU let Nicholls State, a 27.5-point underdog, score the game's first four points and lead the first seven minutes. After 13 minutes the Hoosiers had nine turnovers and two assists.

They settled down enough to take a 37-22 halftime lead, came out strong to start the second half and were never threatened. It was enough to impress Nicholls State coach J.P. Piper.

“They're lightning quick,” he said. “If they can make shots from the perimeter, they are going to be a heck of a team. I love how fast they get up the floor. I'm glad we don't have to play them again.”

Big Ten teams might see it differently, which is why the time before IU's New Year's Eve conference opener at Illinois is so crucial.

“We want to go out strong (against Kennesaw State),” Ferrell said, “and then have a couple days practice, see what we need to work on and get ready for a tough conference.”

Is there reason to worry?

There always is.