Men's Basketball

    Indiana Falls To Penn State In Opening Round

    Go Hoosiers! Nick Williams drives to the basket against Penn State.
    Go Hoosiers!
    Nick Williams drives to the basket against Penn State.
    Go Hoosiers!

    March 12, 2009

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    INDIANAPOLIS - The 2009-10 Indiana men's basketball season officially starts now.

    The Hoosiers fell 66-51 to Penn State in the first round of the 2009 Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

    Penn State got off to a quick start, freshman Verdell Jones III scored a career-high 23 points for the second game in a row, junior Devan Dumes didn't recover from a knee injury suffered nine days ago against Michigan State, junior Tijan Jobe had a dunk that delighted the Hoosier faithful, and senior Kyle Taber got a nice ovation for all the efforts he put in during his five years in the program.

    "First off, I want to thank every fan that supported us from close, far, in Assembly Hall, through e-mail, through letters, on the road, you name it, said IU Coach Tom Crean. "It has been, as I said to the team after the game, we may not understand how great that is right now, but there will be a time, a day when we'll look at it and know that our fan support was just beyond anything that anybody could have ever imagined for."

    And that is what makes Indiana basketball special. Yes, wins and losses matter just like anywhere else. But heart and hustle and pride in the uniform and what it means to a state that is as passionate about basketball as any, mean just as much and as many believe, go hand in hand with success.

    "I think we played it every day to try to get better, to improve them, to give them an opportunity to have a game plan to win in games," added Crean who averaged more than 21 wins per season in nine years at Marquette before coming to IU on April 2 of last season. "I think what I've learned the most is when people -- there really is no substitute for improvement. I mean, it doesn't matter what your talent level is. There's so many things you can get better at if you're willing to do that. If you have the desire to improve, really nothing can stop you. Maybe you'll get to a certain level, because maybe your talent can't overcome this or that. Maybe your height can't overcome this or that, but there's no limit on how hard you can work to improve. When you have a passion for that, which I think so many of these guys do, I respect them a lot for that. I mean, an awful lot."

    With so many emotions evident in the locker room after the game, the highest praise was given to Taber. In a recent story in his local newspaper, he had commented to his mother prior to choosing to walk-on at IU that if he got to play two minutes as a senior for the Hoosiers, it would be worth the opportunity. Now Taber, ends his career with as unique an experience as anyone who has ever won the Cream and Crimson.

    "If you guys saw where Kyle Taber was, on the last day we worked him out in May before we had no more workout time, where he's ended up being as of now, that might be the thing that would blow you away the most, because that guy bought into what he needed to do to get better," said Crean. And he took every bit of coaching and criticism and anything you want to call it to not allow him to stay in a box, and he played his way right out of that box and he made himself better. We just gotta have a spring that's like that with everybody."

    Taber finished his season by making 23 starts and averaging 4.3 points and 5.2 rebounds and he scored added 132 career points to the career total of 34 that he began the season with.

    "I appreciate the coaches pushing me from the beginning," said Taber, an Evansville native. "I mean, trying to make me a better player every day. I mean, that's all you can ask for out of your coaches, someone who cares about you and do everything they can to make you a better person and player."

    Taber was joined in the starting lineup be fellow holdover, sophomore walk-on Brett Finkelmeier, the only other player present on that workout on May 2. He had two points and two assists in 25 minutes.

    Jones III also showed that he will begin the offseason as one of the team's leaders after averaging 15.6 points and 4.3 assists in the final 10 games of the season. By averaging 11.0 points, more than 2.5 points better than what he was averaging on February 1, he joins some impressive Hoosiers notables such as Eric Gordon, D.J. White, Jared Jeffries, Robert Vaden and Bracey Wright as freshmen who came in and contributed double digits.

    "This season is definitely a learning experience, added Jones III. "I think the most we got out of this season is if you work hard and listen to what the coaches say you can improve by leaps and bounds. That's definitely what we did this year."

    Five of the top six scorers on the team were freshman including Jones III, Tom Pritchard (9.7), Nick Williams (8.9), Matt Roth (6.7) and Malik Story (5.9).

    "We're not going to take much time off, said Crean. We've got to continue to build our athleticism, we've certainly got to build our strength. "We'll maximize everything we can to help them have a great spring and at the same time keep them on the great track that they're on academically right now."

     

     

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