BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — This is what Hoosier Nation wanted – heralded freshman Romeo Langford scoring, the defense stifling, Indiana cruising, a season opener tantalizing.
The Hoosiers unleashed potential and pitfalls, athleticism and inconsistency in Tuesday night’s 104-55 victory over Chicago State, which is what you’d expect from a young team mixing lineups almost as often as Langford attacked the basket.
Indiana domination at Assembly Hall produced praise and concern from coach Archie Miller, with a strong sense of what March could bring if the Hoosiers grow and work.
“We have one in the books,” Miller said. “We did some good things. We had some unselfish plays. There were some positives.
“We didn’t have a good feel defensively on what we were doing. I wasn’t as happy, regardless of the score, with our defense and what we were trying to do.”
Still, Chicago State shot just 31.7 percent from the field and committed 20 turnovers. It only scored 23 second-half points.
Miller, recognizing stronger opponents await, including Friday night against Montana State, wanted more.
“We can play a lot better defensively. It always stops and starts with balance. Chicago State pushed the ball hard on us. At times we didn’t get back. Our on-ball defense wasn’t where it has to get to.
“You saw a lot of communication breakdowns. We have a lot of work to do. We have inexperience and youth to deal with early. Our older guys have to get more dialed in.”
Added forward Evan Fitzner: “Defense is an area we need to improve. Coach talked about that. We can do a lot better. We can be a lot tougher. They did some things we didn’t expect. We have to do a better job of adjusting to that.”
Chicago State coach Lance Irvin wants no part of that adjustment.
“Indiana is big. They’re athletic. They’re long. Their guard is bigger than my biggest player. Their size got to us.
“They are a good team with how they execute and how hard they play.”
One thing is clear — IU forward De’Ron Davis isn’t on the floor to shoot three-pointers. He muscled in a layup, missed two free throws and blocked a shot in an eventful first four minutes. Still working his way back into shape from last season’s leg injury, he totaled four points in 22 minutes.
Another thing is clear – Fitzner’s three-point-shooting reputation overshadows a solid overall game. The St. Mary’s transfer’s first two baskets of his Cream ‘n Crimson career were from one foot. His fourth was a three-pointer, and it came in his eighth minute near the end of the first half. He finished with 14 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.
“He does a nice job,” Miller said. “He has a very high basketball IQ. He’s a very skilled offensive player. He has size and length and a great touch. He can stretch the floor and throw it over the zone. He’s a good free throw shooter.
“He’s not a guy who anchors down, but he can get to his spots. He knows how to catch and move. He has good touch. That’s who he is as a player.”
Fitzner’s efficiency — he was 5-for-6 from the field — was the direct result of crisp Hoosier passing.
“Coach talks about wanting us to be a team that shares the ball,” he said. “That’s how you win — find the open man and keep everyone happy. I was the beneficiary of that.”
As for the ultra-hype that follows Langford, well, at one point the freshman guard was 5-for-5 from inside the arc, 0-for-2 outside of it, which suggests where his strength lies. When he attacked, Chicago State buckled. His 17 first-half points in 17 minutes were proof of that.
Langford totaled 19 points, and it would have been more if not for 5-for-11 free-throw shooting.
“There was no pressure,” he said of his IU debut. “Emotions were high for all the freshmen to get out there and get that first game at Assembly Hall. It felt good.”
Added Miller: “If Romeo makes a few more free throws, it was almost a flawless game.”
Then there was junior guard Devonte Green, out with a thigh injury the past few weeks, returning for 15 points in 27-off-the-bench minutes.
“He played well on offense and defense,” Langford said.
Last season’s free throw shooting woes resurfaced. IU shot just 57.6 percent from the line, which won’t work given its attack-the-basket emphasis.
“You’ve got to knock your free throws down,” Miller said.
“It’s black and white. You either make them or you don’t. We’ve got to keep working to get better. We will continue to attack the paint. We want to focus on attacking, and when you get to the line, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Chicago State, with a new coach after a 3-29 season, didn’t figure to stay with the Hoosiers.
Early Cream ‘n Crimson offensive nerves kept the Cougars close – for a while. The Hoosiers opened 3-for-6 from the line and 3-for-10 from the field.
Langford took IU’s first shot of the season — an open three-pointer — and missed. Josh McRoberts made the Hoosiers’ first basket — a three-pointer.
Chicago State’s zone left Indiana with an early perimeter mindset. Its first five shots were three-pointers, with three misses. Forward Juwan Morgan changed that with an emphatic dunk.
Add five Fitzner points and IU built a 21-13 lead in less than nine minutes.
The Hoosiers led 53-32 at halftime, and the message was clear – no letup. Their 11-2 run to open the second half showed how fully they bought in.
Chicago State scored just two points in the first six minutes of the second half, four in the first eight, and if much of it had to do with poor Cougar play as IU aggression, why nitpick? For a coach who values defense as much as Miller, shutting down the other guys rocked.
On this night, the Hoosiers didn’t rock enough, and Miller let his players know it.