Sunday, December 19, 2010
Jones Lobbies, IU Rolls. What’s Next For the Hoosiers?
Beg? Let’s not go that far. Verdell Jones wanted to play. His sprained ankle was sore, but so what? He felt good enough to get in on the fun.
Indiana’s Hoosiers, by the way, are having a lot of basketball fun.
Jones mentioned playing a few days earlier with SIU-Edwardsville arriving at Assembly Hall. Put me in, he said. Coach Tom Crean said no. Indiana didn’t need him for that game, and Jones didn’t need to push it so soon against the worst team the Hoosiers would face all season. Some extra rest seemed the best action, and Crean is a best-action coach, especially with the Big Ten looming.
So here came South Carolina State and Jones pleaded his case. He lobbied that he was ready, proved it during Sunday morning’s walk-through and this time Crean bought it.
Jones could play.
“It was a very strong lobby on my part,” he said with a laugh. “Very strong.”
Jones made the most of it. He came off the bench for 13 points, three assists and just one turnover, huge given he’s been a turnover machine this season. He was 4-for-5 from the field and 5-for-5 on free throws. He did all this in 18 see-I-told-you-I-was-ready minutes and wanted more before Crean pulled him back in as IU cruised to a 102-60 victory in the second round of the Las Vegas Classic.
“It felt real good to be back out there,” Jones said. “I missed it a lot. The last game (SIU-Edwardsville) was hard to watch because I wanted to be in there so bad. I’m glad the team took care of it, and now I’m back.”
He’s back, and if he’s not at full health, he’s close enough.
“It’s not 100 percent. I can’t put a number on it. It’s getting better and hopefully soon it will be 100 percent.”
Jones was part of an IU juggernaut that was slow to start (credit South Carolina State for much of that) and furious to finish. The Hoosiers won the second half 59-25. They scored 82 points in the last 28 minutes.
They had 24 assists against a season-low eight turnovers. Their previous low was 10 against Boston College.
“We were running,” Jones said. “We had a lot of fast-break opportunities. We were driving and kicking it, making the extra pass. It was beautiful to see us do that.”
Beauty had one ugly flaw. Guard Jeremiah Rivers, who is playing the best of his college career, injured his leg in the second half. He crumpled to the court and had to be helped to the locker room by two teammates. At that point Rivers had eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Crean said “It’s too early” to tell the severity of the injury. Rivers flew out with the team to Las Vegas Sunday night.
So now the Hoosiers (9-2) have a chance to win a non-conference tournament championship for the first time since the 2002 Maui Invitational.
Yeah, that would be huge. It would mean beating Northern Iowa (7-3) and probably Steve Alford-coached New Mexico (9-1), although Colorado (7-3) would slip in there.
Remember, IU is 9-0 at Assembly Hall against a lineup that was designed to build their confidence. The best team it played at home was Evansville, which later beat Butler, but the Aces remind no one of, say, Ohio State.
Still, the Hoosiers won the games they were supposed to win, and did it convincingly (every victory by at least 16 points). Now they have to prove they can win outside of Assembly Hall. They are 0-2 on the road, but the Vegas games are neutral contests.
At least, they’re supposed to be.
Right now IU looks like a NIT team. But if it wins this tournament and finishes at least 8-10 in the Big Ten, it has a NCAA tourney shot. A slim shot, but still a shot given the Big Ten ranks with the Big East as the nation’s best conference.
The Hoosiers need a marquee non-conference achievement. You can debate how marquee this event is, but it’s the only one they have let. They might as well make the most of it.