Minutes after Indiana's stunning 71-68 overtime loss Tuesday night at Fort Wayne, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean was asked if his core of freshmen and sophomores were caught unaware of the dangers lurking in their first true road game.
“It's not the young guys' fault,” Crean said. “I don't know if our old guys understand it. I've got to do a better job all the way across the board. We'll build on it because these guys are fragile because of our age. We got outworked over 45 minutes.”
The good news for No. 3 Indiana: It won't play another true road game again until its fourth game of the Big 10 Conference schedule on Jan. 10 against Maryland. The better news: It should get back to the business of winning Sunday against outmatched Mississippi Valley State in its final game of the Indiana Classic at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
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The Hoosiers (3-1) have all the advantages imaginable against the Delta Devils (0-7), who are playing 14 consecutive road games to start the season. In exactly the opposite scenario of Indiana, Mississippi Valley State doesn't play its home opener in its renovated arena until Jan. 7.
What's more, the Delta Devils will have roughly 24 hours prep time for this one after dropping a 79-54 decision Saturday at Fort Wayne, their fifth loss of at least 25 points or more.
Simply put, this is a “paycheck” game for Mississippi Valley State, which like many Southwestern Athletic Conference programs has to play almost all its non-conference games on the road to bring in much-needed revenue for its athletic department.
The Delta Devils returned four starters from a 26-loss team, but entered the season with worries about their frontcourt. Opponents have been able to exploit their defense to the tune of 51.1 percent field goal shooting while outrebounding them by more than 12 per game.
“We tried to recruit athletic guys who can run the floor, block shots and rebound,” Mississippi Valley State coach Andre Payne said prior to the season.
Better athletes aside, the Delta Devils are probably in for a long day. Indiana center Thomas Bryant, who was one of the few Hoosiers who showed up at Fort Wayne with 18 points and 12 rebounds, will have a major size and talent advantage in the lane.
Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. should also be able to get the shots he wants after struggling at Fort Wayne. Purdue transfer Bryson Scott denied Blackmon his spots most of the night and limited him to 13 points, 10 below his average entering the game.
One of the Hoosiers' points of emphasis will be taking care of the ball, something they haven't always done in the first four games.
Indiana is averaging 18.8 turnovers, including 26 in its win on Nov. 19 against Liberty.
“I have to do a better job of getting everyone to understand how far we have to go,” Crean said. “It's either getting better or getting worse. But you're never as good as people tell you you are after a win and we're not as bad as people think we are now after we've lost.”