Dec. 19, 2011
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Indiana coach Tom Crean was worried about his players' focus Monday night.
Turns out, there was no reason to be concerned.
With the Hoosiers trying to protect a second straight Top 25 ranking and become the first Indiana team to go 11-0 since the unbeaten national champs of 1975-76, Indiana actually did something even Bob Knight's first title team did not -- win a game by 57 points.
The 17th-ranked Hoosiers had six players score in double figures, matched a season-high with 11 3-pointers and rolled to the second-most lopsided victory in school history, 107-50 over Howard.
"Our guys were on it," Crean said. "They were ready to play, excited to play and excited to join some elite company. When there are only a few teams in the illustrious history of this program that have done something (like going 11-0), they wanted to join that group."
It was a message that apparently resonated throughout the locker room.
The only other Indiana teams to go 11-0 were in 1942-43, 1974-75 and 1975-76, the last time a Division I national champion finished the season undefeated.
That these Hoosiers are now in the same breath as those is even more remarkable. This year's seniors won only six games as freshmen, 10 as sophomores and 12 last season as juniors. Now they're one of a handful of unbeaten teams left in the nation.
"It is nice to look back on the games you have won," senior Verdell Jones said after scoring 12 points. "Coach talks about making history and that's what we're trying to do here."
It didn't take them long to join an elite club at one of college basketball's most prestigious schools.
On the same day Indiana celebrated its 500th all-time appearance in the Associated Press Top 25, No. 7 all-time, it produced the school's most lopsided victory margin since a 94-29 shellacking of Notre Dame on Dec. 18, 1971 -- Knight's sixth game as the Indiana coach.
The 107 points were the most in 13 years, dating to a 108-88 victory over George Washington in March 1999.
And all this came on a night that Crean thought his team might have a letdown.
Not a chance.
Jordan Hulls scored 16 points; Jones, Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey all had 12 and Christian Watford finished with 10. The Hoosiers tied a season-high with 11 3-pointers, including a left-handed, shot clock-beating 3 from the right-handed shooting Hulls.
"That was pretty cool," Sheehey said.
Jones added: "When we're shooting around [Hulls] always does stuff like that and we wonder what he's doing. But what he's doing is practicing for games like this, trick shots."
Indiana shot 67.3 percent from the field.
But the defensive performance was every bit as impressive.
Howard (3-9) shot just 30.6 percent from the field, went 3 of 15 from beyond the arc, needed 25 minutes to finally crack the 20-point mark and wound up with as many turnovers (19) as baskets. Simuel Frazier had 13 points, the only Bison to reach double figures.
"Tom must have gave his team one heck of a speech because they were coming of a good Kentucky game, a good Notre Dame game and we were hoping that would be underestimating us," Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry said. "They came out as hungry as I have ever seen them."
Indiana never gave them a chance.
Watford wiped out Howard's only lead when his 3-pointer bounced through the net for Indiana's first basket. After making it 17-10 with 12:40 to go in the first half, the Hoosiers delivered their knockout punch, a 16-0 spurt that ended with two 3s from Jones and a third from Hulls.
Dadrian Collins ended that run with a driving layup, which was merely a speed bump for the Hoosiers.
Indiana answered with 10 more points to make it 43-12. By halftime, the lead was 52-15, and the lead grew to as many as 60 points twice in the second half. So much for any worries.
"I think it shows a sign of maturity and staying focused," Jones said. "We know with Christmas coming up, this was a game we could have lost focus, but we came out and attacked and did all the things we had to win."
Putting themselves in elite company at Indiana.
"I was far more concerned with this game than I was Notre Dame, in the sense of being locked in," Crean said. "I had no doubt they would be ready to play Notre Dame, but this was the one that was concerning maybe but they locked in. They erased those coaching fears that you have, and it's only natural, but they erased those right away."