Visiting Sam Houston State did an exceptional job limiting Indiana’s Cody Zeller for most of the first half Thursday night at Assembly Hall.
Oh, but all those other guys. In the Hoosiers’ 99-45 victory, they showed they can take apart a team in a lot of different ways.
Zeller, who finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes despite being ill the past week, was unusually quiet early, taking his team’s first shot, a missed 3-pointer, and then not attempting another shot until 7:52 remained before intermission.
But he really wasn’t needed. No. 1 Indiana (3-0) built a 16-2 lead, and that was even without usual starter Christian Watford, as well.
Coming off a somewhat lackadaisical performance against North Dakota State, Watford was brought off the bench by head coach Tom Crean, who said he wants more consistency from his senior forward. Watford had started 97 of his previous 98 games.
“I thought we played with a lot of passion,” Crean said. “We had a lot of energy, and it is important to get the game started off the right way with that energy mind-set.”
Watford said if he plays hard on both ends, everything will take care of itself.
“I really wasn’t too much worried about it,” Watford said about not starting. “There is nothing you can do about it. It was odd, but you’ve got to go with it. I’m bigger than that.”
Watford apparently got the message, as he scored 23 points, including 11 in the first half when things got out of hand.
With Watford coming off the bench, forward Will Sheehey got his first start of the season. He seemed to like the role, scoring 10 points in the opening half and finishing with 18.
And then there was guard Jordan Hulls, who reached 1,000 points for his career with — what else? — a 3-ball with 6:58 remaining.
As the crowd came to its feet and roared during the ensuing timeout, Crean came on to the floor, grabbed Hulls’ arm and raised it above his head in a salute to the crowd. He gave Hulls, who scored 10 points, the rest of the night off.
“I had no idea what was going on when Coach raised my hand up,” Hulls said. “I’m really not into personal accomplishments. But it is a pretty cool club to be part of. It’s just not the most important thing to me.”
Hulls became the 44th player to score 1,000 points at Indiana.
“I am incredibly proud,” Crean said. “It is an honor to coach him. That kid epitomizes what we are doing here and he epitomizes Indiana basketball.”
Indiana took care of business so well in the opening half, building a 52-25 lead, that the final 20 minutes almost was like play time. This was against a team that was edged 73-68 by Arkansas in the opener and then followed with a 51-point victory against Hardin-Simmons.
It even got more out of hand in the first 2:17 of the second half when the Bearkats’ Michael Holyfield, a 6-foot-11 center, and Terrance Motley, a 6-7 forward, each picked up their fourth fouls while trying to guard Zeller.
With Motley and Holyfield on the ropes, Zeller was free to control the boards without much competition. He didn’t get much of an opportunity, though, as Crean decided to rest him.
The rest of the game was just a little showing off for the home crowd.
Victor Oladipo had another fine all-around performance with 14 points, seven rebounds and four steals.