After coming off an emotional high of beating the Kansas Jayhawks in Hawaii to start the 2016-2017 season, the Indiana Hoosiers took care of business in their home-opener by defeating the UMass-Lowell River Hawks 100-78.
It was evident early in the game that the aftereffects of the overtime thriller as well as the jetlag of traveling five time zones had caused the Hoosiers to start relatively sluggish, clinging to a 16-16 tie by the under-12 media timeout. Yet the hero from the Armed Forces Classic came alive yet again as James Blackmon Jr. had 15 of his game-high 23 points during the final 11:30 of the first half to help the Hoosiers seize control of the game as they took a 53-36 lead into halftime and never looked back.
“I think there’s a confidence when they look at him”, said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about the impact Blackmon makes on the offense.
Coach Crean also talked about the fact that Blackmon made himself become physically stronger while returning from his injury and how it has improved his game.
“James is a lot more explosive than what he was. He could always dunk and things like that but he’s playing with more force. He’s playing downhill more. He’s covering more ground.”
His new strength combined with an iron-willed determination to make up for all the time he lost last season, points to this likely being the norm we’ll see from Blackmon Jr. this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he eventually steps into Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s shoes and becomes the Hoosiers undisputed leader.
However that wasn’t the only thing I noticed during my first trip to Assembly Hall this season. Here are three others:
- Last Saturday it was Curtis Jones’ 15 points (including some big shots in overtime) that stood out from Indiana’s freshman class. Wednesday was Devonte Green’s time to shine as he finished with six points (two of which resulted in an explosive one-handed dunk) and four steals, which makes him the first Hoosier to have that many steals in a game since Blackmon Jr. did it against Alcorn State during the beginning of last season. It’s starting to look like this freshman class could play an integral part in the Hoosiers’ success.
- De’Ron Davis had some clutch free throws late against Kansas, but against UMass-Lowell he scored eight points and it was how he scored those four baskets that’s important. Each came on a variety of post moves where he took his defender one-on-one and beat him to the bucket. If Davis is able to do this on a nightly basis, it would make an already potent offense even more dangerous for opponents.
- While it would be great to see more Davis post-ups, I’d similarly like to see Thomas Bryant take more three-point shots when they are given to him. Bryant showed off his range in small quantities last year before hitting two big ones in the early minutes of the Kansas game. He has a great stroke, but on numerous occasions he was given up a wide-open look because he either hesitated until a defender closed in on him or he passed it to another open teammate. I understand why he’s not taking these shots (play decoy and cause the defense to scramble), but sooner or later teams will dare him to shoot and I know he has the ability to make those teams pay if he actually takes those shots.