It’s not often that Indiana plays a true road game in its non-conference schedule. Like most Top 25 powers, it’s going to play a lot of home games, or it’s going to play on a neutral floor when it does travel.
So, when the Hoosiers agreed to play Tuesday night’s non-conference contest at Fort Wayne, it probably raised more than a few eyebrows. Summit League teams like the Mastodons rarely get TV league programs to venture into the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
But Indiana coach Tom Crean, while admitting his team could play in a difficult atmosphere, felt it was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. It is the Hoosiers’ third of their four games in the Indiana Classic, and with the other three in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, this was one they could afford to play on the road.
"It was an opportunity to involve Fort Wayne and an opportunity to go on the road at the second-largest city (in Indiana), I think, and a great IU fan base up there," Crean said. "Now we’ve got to go play the game. It’s going to be easier said than done."
Of course, if you’re going to play a road game against the Mastodons, you might as well do it with the talent Crean has on his roster. Indiana (3-0) started the season in impressive fashion, beating Kansas, UMass Lowell and Liberty by escalating margins.
Saturday night’s 87-48 rout of Liberty featured a 55-20 rebounding margin against a team that started no one taller than 6-5. It also featured 60.9 percent field goal shooting, a terrific defensive showing that saw the Flames make just under 30 percent from the floor, and an unsightly 26 turnovers.
Crean said after the game that the Hoosiers are simply trying to play too fast.
"Everything’s correctible," he said. "Their attitudes are great and we’ll get those things fixed as we go. Some of our turnovers are coming from footwork. We’ve got to continue to build on that."
Indiana will have to value the ball a bit better against an opponent which is forcing 16 turnovers per game and scores 87.8 points. Fort Wayne (2-2) is coming off a 94-81 win Saturday night over UMass Lowell, a game that was also part of the Indiana Classic.
The Mastodons will pin their upset hopes on 6-1 senior guard Mo Evans, who put up 33 points and 13 assists against UMass Lowell. Evans is averaging 23.3 points and 4.8 assists while canning 59.6 percent of his field goal attempts and 57.1 percent on 3-pointers.
"He has figured out how to play the position in our system," said Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman.
Three other players score in double figures for Fort Wayne, which was formerly known as IPFW (Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) until the athletic department opted for a rebranding.
By any name, it figures to have a tall order against the likes of James Blackmon (23 points), Thomas Bryant, Robert Johnson and OG Anunoby. But at least the Mastodons will get to stay at home for this opportunity.