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BLOOMINGTON — Somewhere along the line, people might have expected the Indiana basketball team to blink.
After playing much of the preseason with a No. 1 ranking and facing some of the dregs of the college basketball world, why wouldn’t the Hoosiers trot out their “B” game from time-to-time.
At 8 tonight in Assembly Hall, No. 5 Indiana faces its final nonconference opponent, a Jacksonville team with a 5-7 record out of the lightly regarded Atlantic Sun Conference. However, don’t expect the Hoosiers to come out flat. Indiana leads the nation in scoring at 89.1 points a game and scoring margin at 29.8. The Hoosiers are second in field-goal percentage at 52.1 percent and fourth in 3-point accuracy at 41.9 percent.
They have not slid down to the level of their opponents.
This has been a special group of players, including the fact that they know some fans will be getting their only chance to see the team live this season tonight. The rest of the season’s games were long sold out, so the Christmas break games offered a special opportunity for some.
“It is special, just because it might be the only game that they get to watch this year or even in their life,” Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller said. “It might be their first impression of us, so we want to go out and play our best and put on a good show for them.”
Indiana guard Jordan Hulls agreed with his teammate: “It’s a special feeling because whether the students are here or not, we always are selling out the arena. The people that get to see us for the first time, we are trying to leave a lasting impression on them and show them how Indiana basketball can be.”
Combine that desire to make an impression with the fact that Indiana begins Big Ten play Monday night at Iowa.
“Our players’ competitive nature was in full bloom in practice,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Great battles and the players were vocal with one another. Rebounding was hard. Driving, sprinting the floor, footwork, shooting and energy were focal points.”
The Hoosiers got a short break after Friday’s win against Florida Atlantic.
“It was great to go home, but it’s even better to be back, and we are looking forward to getting into the gym,” sophomore Remy Abell said. “We are going to get our focus back on what we need to do and what we are trying to accomplish. The practices have been very competitive, and the team is working hard.
“We have to come right back out and play Indiana basketball from the start. There has to be no let-up whatsoever. It’s important for us to keep our composure, trust in our teammates and everything should be fine.”
Whether the likes of Jacksonville has prepared the Hoosiers for a monster Big Ten schedule remains to be seen. Of Indiana’s first 13 opponents, Butler (9-2), North Carolina (9-3) and Georgetown (10-1) were the teams that most resemble the type of competition Indiana will face in the Big Ten. The other major-college opponent was Georgia, which is struggling at 4-7.
Of the rest, six of the midmajor conference teams on the schedule have losing records. North Dakota State (10-3), Sam Houston State (6-5) and Bryant (6-4) are above .500.
Jacksonville has only two players at 6-foot-7 or taller and has a 1-5 road record. Freshman guard Jarvis Haywood is the team’s leading scorer at 11.2 points a game.
“Jacksonville will challenge our transition defense and our ability to stop middle drives,” Crean said. “They love to drive the ball.”
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