Published December 28, 2012
| Associated Press
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – When Jordan Hulls saw his usually good-shooting teammates having an off-night Friday, he took matters into his own hands.
Fifth-ranked Indiana needed everything Hulls could muster.
With Cody Zeller spending most of the night in foul trouble and the nation's best scoring team struggling to pull away from Jacksonville, Hulls broke through by scoring 17 of his season-high 20 points in the first half, leading the Hoosiers to a 93-59 victory.
"I've been pretty passive and they've been telling me to shoot more," Hulls said, referring to his teammates and coaches. "Growing up I was always a pass-first guy, but I felt good today and I felt good all this week."
He looked even better on game night by making 6 of 9 shots, all from beyond the arc, and finished with four rebounds and two assists on a night that the Hoosiers (12-1) won their third straight — all by at least 34 points.
The winning streak should send Indiana into the rugged Big Ten schedule with momentum, too. They open league play Monday night at Iowa, where they have lost four straight.
To end that skid and take control of the conference race, Indiana will need a better overall performance than it got against the outsized and overmatched Dolphins (5-8).
Zeller, a front-runner for national player of the year, picked up two fouls in the first 11 minutes and two more in the first eight minutes of the second half. He wound up playing just 19 minutes, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds — most of which came during the last 7½ minutes of the game.
The 7-foot sophomore center wasn't the only one having trouble.
Indiana started the game by missing four shots and committing four turnovers on its first eight possessions, and 10 minutes into the game, the Hoosiers were still clinging to a 21-15 lead. Nobody expected the game to follow this script.
So with Zeller unable to bail them out inside, Hulls rescued the Hoosiers from the outside.
He knocked down one 3-pointer to start a key 9-2 run midway through the first half and made three straight 3s in the final 90 seconds of the half to finally give the Hoosiers some separation.
"He was very aggressive and he's fully capable, there's no doubt," coach Tom Crean said. "We need him to do that, we need him to play that way. The whole team gets better when he gets aggressive."
After Hulls got things started, his teammates took the cue. Victor Oladipo finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Yogi Ferrell, the freshman point guard, had six points, 10 assists and two more steals. Will Sheehey had 14 points and five rebounds, and Christian Watford finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
Jacksonville couldn't keep up with that combination even though the Hoosiers were short-handed again. They were already missing two injured players, forward Austin Etherington and guard Maurice Creek, with injuries and lost freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell less than an hour before tip-off when the school announced it and the NCAA were looking into "compliance issues." The statement did not specify what may have occurred.
But none of that mattered to Hulls or the Hoosiers.
"He can really shoot the ball," said Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren, who needs three more wins to break the school record. "That stretch in the first half where the game was close, he kind of stretched it out by himself."
The Dolphins were led by Dylan Fritsch with 15 points and Jarvis Haywood with nine, but lost for the fourth time this season to a power-conference school. The Dolphins have now dropped four of their last six overall.
Hulls changed the whole complexion of the game with a 3 midway through the first half that sent Indiana on a 9-2 run. When it ended, with Ferrell's steal and 15-foot pull-up jumper, the Hoosiers led 30-19.
And the 3-point barrage allowed Indiana to extend the halftime lead to 48-33.
Hulls opened the second half with another 3, and Indiana put the game away a few minutes later with an 11-3 spurt that made it 63-41. The Dolphins never got closer than 21 again.
"It doesn't surprise me at all. I've been in the gym with this guy since I got here and I've seen him make 30 or 40 in a row," Oladipo said, drawing laughter. "We just need him to shoot the ball more."