In a postgame press conference that lasted four minutes, Indiana head coach Tom Crean succinctly summed up what his team needed to do better to avoid a 94-74 blowout loss at Duke.
“Guard the ball better,” he said.
“We were not nearly good enough on the ball tonight defensively, which forced us to help, which is what we don’t want to do against a team that has shooters like that,” Crean said. “We never really made them feel us presence-wise.”
Indiana shot 50.9 percent from the field. The Hoosiers scored an average of 1.2 points per possession, an impressive mark. They also only turned the ball over nine times. But they still lost by 20 points.
That’s not easy to do, and it speaks to just how bad the Hoosiers were defensively. And give the Blue Devils credit for taking advantage.
Indiana tried about as many different defenses as possible – man-to-man, 1-3-1 zone, 2-3 zone, a 1-2-2 and even, at times, appeared to switch between a man and a zone in the middle of a possession. But that just left the Hoosiers as masters of none, trying a little bit of everything but doing nothing well.
“We thought we could drive and get offensive boards if we were patient and strong,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And we had 19 offensive boards. We had, like, 26 second chance points. But another thing, even if we didn’t get the points, we got a chance to run our offense again.”
Brandon Ingram was the first to take advantage, using the big-game stage in Cameron Indoor Stadium to remind onlookers why he is projected as a lottery pick in next year’s draft. Using simple ball screens, Marshall Plumlee lured Indiana big man Thomas Bryant away from the basket, and the Hoosiers’ inability to switch or stay with Ingram gave him the space he needed to knock down shots. Ingram was an efficient 10-for-15 from the field (and 4-of-6 from 3) for a career-high 24 points.
It’s been no secret that the long-and-lean Ingram has struggled to adjust to the physicality of the college game, and he acknowledged that Wednesday night as well.
“The physicality, playing against men, 22- and 23-year-olds,” he said when asked what the hardest adjustment has been.
In order to prepare him for the physical challenge of Indiana, assistant coach Nate James worked out with Ingram after the 5:15 p.m. team meal. The goal was to get him accustomed to the pounding the Hoosiers were expected to bring.
“We knew Indiana would really come in on him,” Krzyzewski said of Ingram. “He really responded. He’s putting a lot of work in. He was outstanding tonight.”
The Blue Devils were working in rhythm on offense, recording a season-high 18 assists. Amile Jefferson had a career-high of eight, a fact that even amazed Krzyzewski. Jefferson was able to take advantage of soft spots in the Indiana zone (which, again, is revealing about the effectiveness of the Hoosiers’ defense).
“For whatever reason, Amile became like a point guard. It just kind of happened,” Krzyzewski said. “They do a bunch of different things defensively. Man, zone, combination, you’re playing man and then they go zone. So you need alert players.”
The Blue Devils averaged an insanely high 1.5 points per possession, a number that will be tough to duplicate against competent defenses. But still, as the Blue Devils become more experienced, they can expect to click like they did offensively more often.