Dustin’s Note: Didn’t realize this didn’t publish last night. Sorry for the strange timing.
Indiana coach Tom Crean was in Springfield, Mass., on Monday night for recruiting purposes, watching 2013 signees Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson. IU assistant coach Steve McClain took over his spot and seniors Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston also took to the microphone.
McClain had to face at least a few slightly critical questions about the team’s recent performances, especially about Indiana’s play in the second half. The Hoosiers have only outscored one team — Penn State — in the second half in Big Ten play, though they have led at the half in all five games and own a 4-1 conference record.
McClain explained the discrepancy by saying that in Big Ten play, the teams are too good not to come back.
“You take the Minnesota game for example,” McClain said. “We’re up (23) at halftime. Well, last time I checked, Minnesota’s got a Top 25 team and they’re a very good team. They’re not gonna go away. As the game flows, they make a run. Maybe we miss a couple of shots, but the game is going to come back at some point. Now, there’s sometimes when you’re playing different teams that that 25 can go to 30 and 35. You don’t see it happen in very many league games. You’ll see teams get up. You think about our game last year at Michigan. We got off to a really bad start. By halftime, we had it back to about 12, and by later in the game, we had it ready to win. Some of that is maybe your guys relax a little bit. That can happen and we talk about that. But I think the other part is, when you’re playing another good basketball team, we know how we are, and we don’t think we’re ever out of it. So I think that’s a credit to this league and the coaches. Penn State’s coming in here 0-5, and it’s not like we’re preparing like they’re 0-5. We’re preparing for them to come in here and fight as hard as they have all year, and they’re gonna do it for 40 minutes. Tim Miles at Nebraska’s got that team fighting for 40 minutes. To answer your question, I’m not sure that you can look at it and say it’s one specific thing. I think more than anything, I think those teams you’re playing are not gonna stop. There’s gonna be a point where it all comes back and maybe you miss a few free throws and the game gets a little tight. But at the end of the day, I’d much rather be up 24 at halftime on Minnesota and half to worry about how we hold on, then to be up six and go ‘Well, let’s just have a great second half.’ That’s a good problem to have. As long as we keep being up a lot and have to worry about how we finish the end, I’ll take that every night.”
McClain was also asked about what a caller perceived as a lack of movement and screening on offense.
“Our strategy on offense has been the same since Day 1,” McClain said. “I think this, we do want Yogi to search every time he goes down the court. I think we have the best freshman point guard in the country. I don’t think there’s any debate about that. We set a lot of drags or ball screens trying to free him so he can find Jordy wide open, find Cody on a roll, find Christian in that slot. Yeah, we want to go inside to Cody. Since the day Cody got here, coach has always said we can play through Cody. He’s a great passer. There’s not many times he gets double-teamed that he doesn’t throw it and find somebody wide open. I think there’s always a point where maybe a team goes zone and you may get a little stagnant for a little bit. But I think overall when I watch our team, I don’t see us stand very much. Again, if we are it’s because we’re in a position that we’re supposed to be knowing what’s going on the other side of the court and where the ball could come from. I love watching them as a coach, I think Vic and Will, we’ve got two of the hardest-cutting, back-cutting, cut in front of your face guys in the country. I don’t see those two ever stand very much. Christian and Jordy are two of the best spot-up shooters in the country. You don’t mind them standing a little bit. And in Yogi, you can find somebody who’s open all the time. That’s our philosophy. That’s what we’re trying to do. When you look at the national stats and where we rank in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage and scoring, 99 percent of the time we’re doing a pretty good job of that.”
When Hulls and Elston came on, Don Fischer, Indiana’s play-by-play man and the host of the show, joked with Hulls about suckering Northwestern into fouling him late by missing three straight free throws.
“That’s how I planned it,” he joked. “Derek said I’m the smartest player to ever play. I missed three free throws in a row. Made them think I’m not gonna hit any more the rest of the game and make them foul me.”
Of course, that wasn’t happened at all, and Hulls didn’t take it well at the time.
“They’re free,” Hulls said. “You shouldn’t miss them. I wasn’t too happy with myself, but I hit them late them in the game, so I was alright after that.”
Fischer asked Elston about his injury recovery. The senior forward has only played 36 minutes this season including one minute in Sunday’s game, and admitted that he has had some setbacks.
“I’ll go and have really good days to be able to come in and workout with these guys,” Elston said. “For me to be able to say I’ve been through a full practice with these guys is pretty uplifting. But then I’ll turnaround and I’ll do the littlest thing and be back to Square 1. Right now, Coach Crean is just telling me to keep my head up. I’m allowed to be frustrated. It comes with life, but never be discouraged. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
However, Elston said he’s been proud of the coaching he’s been able to do, especially with the freshmen.
“I know that a lot of what I have to say isn’t really going to influence someone like Jordan or Cody or Christian that much,” Elston said. “Those guys kind of know how to do their own thing, they know how to play, but there’s nothing that puts a smile on my face more or is more gratifying for me than to see Hanner go out there, catch the ball, face up, take one dribble, do his spin move and put the ball in the basket, or for him to go out and get three or four or five rebounds. For me, that’s who I’ve been working with this entire season is Hanner and Peter. To have them go out there and for them to have great success. Because I realize right now, it’s just not my time right now. I realize that. But even Jeremy, I like working with him, because I see a little Christian Watford in him. To have him go out here with Hanner. Peter, it will come for Peter, but when Hanner and Jeremy go out on the floor and they do something that helps this team in any way, a rebound, an assist, a deflection, there’s nothing better to see.”
Fischer asked Hulls who he mentored this summer, and Hulls spoke at length about his respect and admiration for Yogi Ferrell.
“He’s one of the hardest-working freshmen I’ve ever seen,” Hulls said. “Coming in, it was really cool to see how much he’s even developed since this summer. His strength, his mindset of how he approaches the game. he’s just so locked in to what we have to do in order to win. He’s taking a big leadership role even as a freshman.”