BLOOMINGTON — The beauty of Indiana’s basketball play can be like the strokes of a Picasso at times, lining the canvas with precision and grace.
Just not on Monday night.
The Hoosiers’ 87-61 victory against North Dakota State more resembled a splatter painting with bodies flying everywhere and more reliance on brawn than finesse.
That was OK, though, with this group of Hoosiers, who are proving early they can be a tough bunch when the opponent wants to get down and dirty.
Early in the second half, it was apparent that the Bison were going to do their best to stomp Indiana center Cody Zeller, who fried Bison burgers in the first half with 14 points to establish a 42-29 lead at intermission.
The Big Handsome turned into the Big Squeeze as the Bison crunched him from both sides the first four or five times down the floor after intermission.
Then on a loose ball, Zeller was used as a square dance partner, being spun around a few times before being launched. Zeller came up smiling, refusing to show that he could be unnerved.
But it was apparent he wasn’t going to take any more. So Zeller unleashed his own brand of punishment. Dunk, dunk, dunk. A block on the defensive end. Intimidation.
“Teams continue to learn that if they tangle up with him, and go into his body, he just gets tougher and tougher,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “And he was sick today. He probably should have stayed in bed.”
Zeller keyed a thorough execution of the Bison in the second half and finished with 22 points and nine rebounds as Indiana went to 2-0 this season.
“We are going to see everything from different teams,” said Zeller, who was a rebound short of a second consecutive double-double. “They are going to try to out-physical me, and they are going to try to out-physical our other guys. You just have to keep your composure and deal with it.”
Zeller had plenty of help Monday, and a lot of it came on the defensive end.
“There is nothing bigger than energy and technique, and it has to be there constantly,” Crean said. “There is conventional, there is unconventional, and then there is what we did tonight.”
When the Hoosiers struggled a bit offensively early in the game, the defense was putting on a clinic. North Dakota State (1-1) went 0 for 5 from the floor with two turnovers on its first seven possessions. Indiana was sluggish on offense but still managed to assume a 6-0 lead. The tone had been set for the game.
With Crean using his entire roster, just about all the Hoosiers had a hand in the victory. Zeller handled the offense in the first half, and Jordan Hulls (11 points) did the long-range damage, finishing 3 of 6 from 3-point land.
Guard Victor Oladipo did a little of everything, as he scored seven points and had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.
In the second half, sophomore guard Remy Abell and freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell made the most of their minutes. Abell hit all five of his shots and scored 14 points in 17 minutes. Hollowell scored 14 points in 19 minutes.
“I have to play my role and do my job,” Abell said. “I knew before that I could get to the rim, so I worked on my jump shot. That has carried over to the game.”
Hollowell, who is 6-foot-8, showed he has both an inside and outside game.
“I try to display my strengths and provide some energy,” he said.
“I am getting a feel for the game and getting more comfortable. I just have to find a role.”