BLOOMINGTON –- Letdown? Don't talk to the Indiana Hoosiers about a letdown.
Their holiday break is over and they have one final non-conference game –- tonight at Assembly Hall against Jacksonville (5-7) -– to fine tune things before Monday's Big Ten opener at Iowa.
“We are going to get our focus back on what we need to do and what we are trying to accomplish,” guard Remy Abell said in a university release. “The practices have been very competitive and the team is working hard.”
Abell gets no arguments from coach Tom Crean, who enjoys full-throttle practices almost as much as he likes to breath.
“Our players' competitive nature was in full bloom (Thursday) in practice,” Crean said. “We had great battles and the team was vocal with one another. The rebounding was hard. Driving, sprinting the floor, footwork, shooting and energy were focal points.”
A winter storm that socked Bloomington with 12 inches of snow on Wednesday didn't stop practice or distract preparations.
“We have to come right back and play Indiana basketball from the start,” Abell said. “There has to be no let up whatsoever. It's important that we keep our composure, trust in our teammates and everything should be fine.”
Crean gave the Hoosiers off from right after last Friday's win over Florida Atlantic until Christmas night.
“This team shows you the commitment they have to one another when you don't have one guy late coming back,” associate head coach Steve McClain said. “They were ready to go.
“Our older guys do a great job of instilling what to expect. We had a nice workout on Christmas.”
The No. 5 Hoosiers (11-1) have won two straight games since their overtime loss to Butler. Both came by more than 30 points at Assembly Hall.
While IU remains an overwhelming favorite tonight, Abell said the players can't approach it that way.
“We know (Jacksonville) will give us its best shot. We have to focus on defense first, which ends up creating a ton of offense going and gets the crowd going.”
McClain said having a non-conference game after Christmas and just before the start of Big Ten play will work in the Hoosiers' favor.
“I like the fact we come back from break and still have a non-conference game to get us back in our rhythm,” he said. “The last two years we have come back and opened right up with Big Ten games.
“The closer you get to conference play, the veteran guys know what's coming.”
Jacksonville is coming off a 65-53 pre-Christmas victory over Furman. Freshman guard Jarvis Haywood set career highs in points (16) and rebounds (nine) in the victory. He leads the Dolphins with an 11.2 scoring average, 12.6 in the last seven games.
Guard Keith McDougald averages 10.0 points. Glenn Powell, a 6-6 forward, averages 8.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Jacksonville leads the Atlantic Sun Conference in blocked shots, averaging 3.0 a game. The Dolphins have had at least five blocks in each of the last seven games. Freshman forward Tyler Alderman, a 6-9 former state of Indiana standout from Fishers, Ind., leads with 12 blocks.
The Dolphins are 0-3 this season against major conference teams, losing to Georgia (68-62) Miami (73-57) and South Carolina (91-74).
Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren has 105 career victories. He needs one to tie Hugh Durham for second in school history, and three to pass Rollie Rourke for the school record.
“Jacksonville will challenge our transition defense and our ability to stop middle drives,” Crean said. “They love to drive the ball.”
Added McClain: Jacksonville has been on the road at some tough places like Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri State. I expect them to be ready when they come into our building.”