“I’m not worried about him,” coach Tom Crean says. “He’s getting better and better. He’s gaining confidence.”
Bryant is part of a diversified lineup that thrives on sharing rather than go-to emphasis. His versatility means he is not the post presence that teammate De’Ron Davis is. Sometimes he battles for paint position, other times he’s on the perimeter with an option to pass, drive or shoot, and if that seems to hinder his effectiveness, consider his numbers.
Bryant leads IU in rebounding (7.2), blocks (26), steals (16) and even three-point shooting (12-for-25, 48 percent). He ranks third on the team in scoring, at 12.2 points. The rebounding and scoring averages, plus the three-point shooting, are the best of his career. So is his 74.1 free throw percentage.
The only stat in which he is not as good as last year is in shooting. Last season, he set a school record at 68.3 percent. This year, it’s 54.5 percent, but he is coming off a 6-for-6 effort in Saturday’s win over Illinois that included 2-for-2 from three-point range.
Could he be more aggressive? Absolutely. He had just six points and three rebounds in last week’s loss to Wisconsin. He’s had seven games where he’s failed to score in double figures.
One reason — he doesn’t shoot enough. Only six times this season has Bryant had at least seven shot attempts.
But consider Crean pushes an uptempo attack that centers on cutting, spacing, moving and making the simple play, which usually means sharing the ball and hitting the open guy. He wants to get the ball in the paint, but not necessarily to a particular player.
For Bryant, that means efficiency matters. Against Illinois, he totaled a season-high 20 points from those six shots.
“He’s getting more fundamental around the rim,” Crean says. “He’s getting more fundamental on the drive and the three and his free-throw shooting.”
That’s also true of his defense. Bryant was a big reason why Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes, one of the Big Ten’s best players, went just 4-for-11 from the field for 10 points and two rebounds.
“Lost in the loss was the job (Bryant) did on Nigel Hayes,” Crean says. “He never had a matchup like that before.”
Bryant puts in the time. He always has. He understands excellence requires doing more than the expected.
So as IU’s losses have mounted (at 11-5, it has dropped out of this week’s AP top-25) and questions have surfaced about why he isn’t taking charge as you’d expect someone touted as a potential All-America and NBA first-round draft pick should dominate, Bryant does what he always does.
He goes to work.
“It’s diving into film more,” he says. “Getting up extra shots and post moves, doing extra work, working on my quickness. Little things I can do to help my game out.”
As for those who expect more, he says, “There are always key things I can do better. I’m not worried about that or looking at the outside. I’m just looking at the inside and improving with the team.”
Work comes with common sense. Doing too much can be just as limiting as not doing enough.
“We’re very conscious of not over working,” Bryant says, “but we know that each day we have to put in some kind of work — looking at film, taking shots, talking to the coaches. You’ve got to get better every day.”
As far as his drop in shooting accuracy, it’s more a matter of fundamentals. Against Louisville’s length, Crean says, Bryant didn’t drive his shoulder into a defender and jump, but opened up his chest, which meant less control and accuracy.
Bryant has worked on that, and more.
“He’s really learning how much the extra work matters,” Crean says. “He’s got to work that much harder to keep that going.”
Bryant will try to keep it going Tuesday night, when IU plays at Maryland (14-2, 2-1). It will be the Hoosiers’ first true road game of the season.
As far as getting everyone ready a hostile environment, assistant coach Chuck Martin says, “We have Rob Johnson, James Blackmon and Thomas Bryant, guys who have played in tough environment. They’ve shared their experiences. So has Collin Hartman. They’ve let the younger guys know, it’s on the road, it’s a league game, it’s a good venue and it’s loud.”
Beating Illinois to end a three-game losing streak was a big boost, Martin says.
“Any time you’re in the position we were in, you want to get the win and feel good about it. We performed well. We feel confident moving forward.”
UP NEXT: Indiana at Maryland
TIPOFF: 9 p.m., Tuesday
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