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Hoosiers hurry past SIU-Edwardsville

Friday, December 17, 2010

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Tom Crean couldn't have drawn a game plan any better than he did Friday night.

Indiana's players executed it perfectly.

Christian Watford and Derek Elston combined for 26 first-half points, the Hoosiers scored the first 24 points and they rolled past Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 88-54 in the Las Vegas Classic. And it wasn't even that close.

"I've been on the other side of it. I remember, at Marquette, being down 18-0 at Louisville, and we came back to win it by five," Crean said. "If you coach long enough, you see it all. But it's really a tribute to our guys and the way they played tonight."

The Hoosiers (8-2) were relentless.

They shot 61.5 percent from the field and were 9 of 16 from 3-point range despite playing without starting guard Verdell Jones, who sat out with an ankle injury. The defense pitched a shutout for almost nine minutes and didn't give up a basket for almost 13.

Not surprisingly, Indiana extended its home winning streak to nine straight by matching the second-largest victory margin of the Crean era. Next up: Sunday's home game against South Carolina State before wrapping up the tournament with two games in Las Vegas, including a possible showdown against New Mexico coach Steve Alford, the former Hoosiers star.

Indiana is hoping Friday's performance is an indication it is ready to start winning away from Assembly Hall, too.

Watford finished with 18 points despite fouling out with 8 1/2 minutes to play. Elston added 14 points and five rebounds, most coming in the first 4 1/2 minutes.

Yet Crean was more impressed with the wide disparities at both ends of the floor.

Indiana shot 17 of 25 from the field in the first half while SIU-Edwardsville missed its first 15 shots. The Cougars (2-10) have lost seven of eight, dropped to 0-9 all-time against Big Ten foes and clearly struggled despite playing in front of a smaller-than-usual Indiana crowd.

"For these guys, it is a different level. You're talking about the Big Ten, one of the best conferences in the country, so there is going to be some intimidation," coach Lennox Forrester said. "I thought they played a lot better and relaxed after we scored our first point."

True enough.

The Cougars finished the half by going 7 of 11, but they were already too far behind to catch up.

SIU-Edwardsville, now in the third year of a four-year transition from Division II to Division I, was led by Michael Messer with 15 points and Cody Rincker with 12.

How ugly was it for the Cougars?

Hoosiers fans cheered when Messer made two free throws to end the scoring drought with 11:06 to go in the half, roared even louder when Rincker hit a 15-footer for the Cougars' first basket with 7:05 to play and roared even louder when Indiana walk-on Kory Barnett made his first basket in three years -- a 3-pointer in the closing minutes.

It was that kind of night for SIU-Edwardsville.

"I thought we had some good looks, but the shots weren't falling, and we couldn't make stops at the other end," Forrester said. "We gave up a lot in transition, wide-open 3s, and that's something we talk about -- taking away transition points."

Instead, Indiana took advantage in every way possible.

Elston, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, used a nifty combination of power moves inside and outside shots to get things started. Then, the 6-9 Watford knocked down all four of his 3-pointers.

The Cougars couldn't keep up.

Indiana jumped to the 24-0 lead, watched SIU-Edwardsville hit four free throws, and then reeled off 11 more points to make it 35-4. The Hoosiers led by as much as 33 in the half, still led 47-20 at the break and put it away with a 17-2 second-half run that made it 71-30.

"The game plan was unreal," Elston said. "We heard that we had no answer for the big, and that kind of took us like 'Are you serious?' So yesterday at practice, we kind of went at each other, us five men down there, and now we just realize that after tonight, you can't really say that."