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BLOOMINGTON — Indiana showed up to its dress rehearsal Thursday night with its shoes untied, its shirt hanging out and its pants on backward.
Yes, it was sloppy to the ninth degree, at least for the first 10 minutes, which these exhibition openers always seem to be.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable learning tool for coach Tom Crean and his roster of No. 1 Hoosiers.
Sure, they eventually took care of business, an 86-57 slapping of NAIA Division II Indiana Wesleyan, and the capacity crowd of 17,186 had a good, old Assembly Hall time.
The bursts of overwhelming talent served notice that, even by Indiana basketball standards, this could be a remarkable season.
Among the fun stuff was the return of junior guard Maurice Creek, who missed last season with a ruptured Achilles heel and hadn’t played since Jan. 15, 2011, after suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his knee against Michigan.
Creek jogged on the court at the 10:57 mark of the opening half to a standing ovation. The throng chanted his name for the first minute he was on the court, which had to be confusing to him. In the time he had been sidelined, Indiana turned into the No. 1 team in the nation. That was from the Hoosiers’ 12-20 record in 2010-11 when he last played.
But here he was on the court with the team that trailed the NAIA Wildcats 20-16.
Creek quickly took care of that in his first few minutes, hitting on a beautiful drive to the hoop for a layup and then nailing a 3 that put the Hoosiers on top 27-25, their first lead of the game.
Indiana upped its defensive pressure, and that was the end of the Wildcats’ 10 minutes of fame. Indiana had a 41-30 lead by halftime, and the Wildcats managed two field goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“It felt great to be with these guys,” said Creek, who led the team with 12 points in 15 minutes. “That’s what I always have wanted. It felt like such a long time.
“And it was a great ovation … a standing ovation. Great, great, great. I appreciate everyone who stood up for me.”
Besides Creek’s coming-back party, the other compelling moments on Thursday involved freshman guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, the dynamic talent out of Park Tudor High School who had eight points, but also had four turnovers. He was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 2 point guard recruit in the nation, but he looked like No. 1 on the court.
Sure, there were flaws. Ferrell tried a no-look pass in the first half that would have been a thing of beauty if it hadn’t landed in the lady’s lap in the third row. Hand it to him, though, he had everyone baffled.
“People don’t look for it, and he already has passed the ball,” Creek said. “It’s by you. But we are learning him, too.”
Ferrell’s up-side is tremendous. He’s got that siesta look when he is charging around at a pace that is just unfair to the competition. It’s a raw kind of talent that Crean will have a lot of fun molding over the years. Being 6-foot tall, Ferrell probably will be around for a while before he ascends the ladder.
“Yogi brings an edge to the game,” Crean said. “He did it in high school. He did it this summer. That’s who he is. He does need to learn to value the ball more. He still wants to hit home runs.”
Of course, there was that nasty start that allowed Indiana Wesleyan to build a nine-point lead early.
You can bet that, while focused on the happy stuff Thursday, Crean will give his players a little what-for in the conference room.
His 7-footer, Cody Zeller, is all-everything, but people have to remember he is a sophomore. Playing against his little brothers, he had two over-the-back fouls in the first 12 minutes and had to take a seat for the rest of the half.
Zeller, who had 11 points and five rebounds, wasn’t the only offender. His teammates played some dazed-and-confused defense early, allowing the Wildcats to drive the lane, then dish to wide-open players on the perimeter for 3-pointers.
The Hoosiers shot 9 for 16 from the free-throw line in the first half and were 2 for 9 from the 3-point line.
All-in-all, though, it was a chance for guys like the Wildcats’ Tyler Greathouse, a Wildcats’ sophomore from Columbus North High School who played two minutes, to get a taste of the very, very big time.
For the Hoosiers, it was a snack.
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.
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