BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- They’re cheering again at Indiana.
They’re counting 3-pointers -- 33 of them taken Thursday night against SMU -- instead of player suspensions.
They’re savoring the firepower of freshman James Blackmon Jr. -- with his 23.3 scoring average and 61-percent shooting in 3-pointers through three games -- instead of dreading the next sneaker to drop.
That was Tom Crean at the microphone Thursday night talking about how the Hoosiers beat the Mustangs 74-68, rather than having to explain how he was going to regain control of his program.
“The thing with adversity, you’re going to go one of two ways with it,” Crean said. “It’s either going to break you, or it’s going to bond you. And it’s too early for us to have an answer to either one of those.”But, at least ...
“They’re trying to grow up.”
The karma at Indiana has improved, anyway. Certainly better than weeks ago when a rash of off-court player alcohol and drug-related transgressions and suspensions left the program wobbly, and an entire state wondering aloud about both Crean’s stewardship of the program, and his future with it.
Victory can be a terrific pain reliever. Indiana is now 3-0, but Thursday’s game was the first one that truly counted, against a ranked opponent.
They have spent recent weeks listening to their beleaguered coach, and to outside speakers brought in for advice, and to the restless grumbling of the masses. They have looked inward, and wondered how it came to this. But then it was time to play.
Troy Williams, for instance. Now he was on the court making key players rather than watching games from the locker room as one of the suspended Hoosiers.
“The biggest thing I learned is what it means to other people to be in my position,” he said. “It means a lot more to me now. I wouldn’t say I took it for granted [before], but I did see how other people see it.
“It’s just a new look on everything.”
Now they have beaten a quality opponent, with big plays at crunch time. “You hope they understand that they can do that all the time,” Crean said. “Next time you have it, it’s been there, done that for a young team, because there were a lot of young players on the court putting the game away.”
Now they have found a way to overcome what they don’t have, starting with size. Indiana survived a game in which it was outrebounded 40-27 and outscored in the paint 42-14. That can't happen every night, but the Hoosiers got by with unshakable confidence in their shooting (a dozen 3-pointers made) and few turnovers (seven). Blackmon has buried 11 of his first 18 3-pointers as a collegian.
“The great thing about our team is we have such great shooters, when it wasn’t falling, none of our heads went down,” said Yogi Ferrell, who played 36 minutes at the point without one turnover. “We know we can make shots. We’re human, we’re not robots. We’re not going to make every single shot.”
Now they have taken another step in the recovery process from disarray and public rebuke. There has been a circle-the-wagon mentality, and maybe that helped in a game like this one.
“I don’t think there is any question that’s a huge part of it,” Crean said. “You can’t plan for everything that they’ve been through, and that they’re going through. It’s not like we’ve been through it. We’re still in the midst of it. We’re still in the midst of maturing, we’re still in the midst of growing up. We don’t have a teammate with us [Devin Davis, seriously injured when he was struck by a vehicle driven by teammate Emmit Holt in an apparent alcohol-related incident] that they miss dearly and he misses them.
“But for us to continue to move forward and bond, it’s not just about being friends and buddies. It’s about them being able to tell the truth to one another.”
There is something in the winter air that suggests a crisis has been passed, at least for the moment. This was the 16th ranked team that Indiana has beaten since 2011-12, which ties Kansas for most in the nation. Things like that can ease the anxiety, so long as there is no more foolishness.
“We’ve got a lot of places to get better at. We’ve got a lot of games to play,” Crean said. “But with what they’ve been through over a period of time. I’m proud of their work. I’m proud of how serious they are.
“They’ve got to take it day by day ... assess where they’re at at the end of the day and know what they have to do better tomorrow. It sounds corny. It’s just as corny to them. But you know what, we’re trying to live it, and move from there.”