The reward comes Wednesday night, and Nebraska could pay a heavy price.
Indiana’s junior guard missed the entire Big Ten season last year when he hurt his knee during a late December practice. He could only watch as the Hoosiers won the conference championship and reached the NCAA tourney Sweet 16.
Now he’s healthy and thriving as the No. 16 Hoosiers (10-2) prepare for their conference opener against the visiting Cornhuskers (6-6).
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Blackmon said. “It’s what I’ve been looking forward to since the beginning of the season.
“Its hard not to look over a team, but now that it’s here, I’ll continue to work hard in and out of practice, and take care of business when it comes.”
Blackmon has handled business very well so far. The former Bishop Luers standout is having the best season of his career. He averages a career-high 18.5 points and leads the Hoosiers in scoring and three-point shooting (45.7 percent). He needs 73 more points to reach 1,000 for his career.
Blackmon has been on a three-point shooting roll, making four three-pointers in each of his last four games. He’s shooting 16-for-29 beyond the arc during that stretch.
That doesn’t make him a gunner. He’s well aware of coach Tom Crean’s get-it-in-the-paint priority. Still, when you’re hot, it would be silly to waste it.
“Once you hit two or three, the rim gets a little bigger,” Blackmon said, “but I never want to switch my mentality to just start shooting threes. You go inside-out first.”
While Crean embraces Blackmon’s offensive prowess, he wants him to focus first on defense, leadership and communication.
“That’s the most important thing,” Crean said.
Blackmon’s strong play reflects that of the Hoosiers, who are coming off a pair of blowout Assembly Hall wins after a tough Butler loss.
“They’re working at a really good pace,” Crean said. “Our practices have been sharp — short, but sharp and efficient. They’re spending a lot of extra time in the gym.”
IU enters Big Ten play having played three top-15 teams in Kansas, North Carolina and Butler, plus highly regarded Fort Wayne, a potential NCAA tourney squad. It has one final non-conference game, Saturday in Indianapolis against No. 6 Louisville.
“I feel our schedule has prepared us really well,” Blackmon said. “We had a lot of big games and good competition.
“Going forward, we want to focus on one game at a time because we know every night we’ll be in for a battle.”
Nebraska is in free fall. It has lost six of its last eight games, including a miserable effort in a recent 70-62 home loss to Gardner-Webb that coach Tim Miles called “unacceptable.”
The Cornhuskers did win their last game, 81-76 over Southern.
Part of the problem is having the Big Ten’s toughest non-conference schedule according to kenpom.com. Nebraska has lost to three top-10 teams in UCLA, Kansas and Creighton, as well as to Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Another problem — lack of ball security. Nebraska has more turnovers (165) than assists (137).
The Cornhuskers are led by guard Tai Webster, who averages 17.0 points and 5.1 rebounds. Guard Glynn Watson averages 12.6 points. Forward Ed Morrow Jr. averages 10.3 points and 8.4 rebounds.
UP NEXT: Nebraska at Indiana
Tipoff: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday
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