Published November 20, 2014
Welcome to big-time basketball Bryant.
The undersized and outmanned Bulldogs struggled inside against No. 1 Indiana, giving up a combined 33 points and 25 rebounds to Cody Zeller and Christian Watford in a 97-54 loss — their first game as a full-time Division I member and their first matchup ever with America's top-ranked team.
"There's no magic to this," coach Tim O'Shea said. "They've got good players that can make shots and in order for anybody to come in here, whether it's Bryant or anybody in the Big Ten, the way they score the basketball, you've got to make shots. You've got to really be a talented offensive team because nobody's going to shut them down."
Bryant (0-1) certainly couldn't, even on a night when it had three players reach double figures — Alex Francis with 15 points, Frankie Dobbs with 12 and Corey Maynard with 11.
Inside, they were completely overmatched and they were playing on a special night in Assembly Hall.
The sold-out crowd watched Zeller start his sophomore season as expected, scoring 18 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and making 8 of 10 field goals. The only blip was an unusual 2-of-6 performance from the free-throw line.
Fans saw Watford, the buzzer-beating hero against Kentucky last season, add 15 points and notch a career-high 15 rebounds while wearing No. 32 instead of his usual No. 3 — a tribute to his injured friend, Derek Elston, who isn't expected to play until December.
They roared when Maurice Creek made it back into a regular season for the first time in 22 months and both times he made 3-pointers.
And they gave athletic director Fred Glass a standing ovation when he announced moments before tip-off that Tom Crean had agreed to a two-year contract extension that will run through 2019-20.
Even the players were excited about the news.
"It's pretty special, you know. He's helped us more ways than you can imagine, on and off the floor, making men out of us really," guard Jordan Hulls said of Crean. "It's really cool to see him rewarded for the hard work he's put in for us."
Indiana (1-0) wound up cruising to its 15th consecutive season opener and 28th straight home opener.
But Friday night was also about Indiana's players protecting their first preseason No. 1 ranking in 33 years, and they did it with a predictably dominant performance.
Indiana shot 55.6 percent from the field while holding Bryant to 32.3 percent. The Hoosiers made twice as many 3-pointers (eight) as the Bulldogs, and Zeller and Watford combined for nearly as many rebounds as Bryant had as a team (29).
In Watford's case, there's a definite reason he wants to improve on the glass.
"He knows that's an objective, the next level needs to see that at a high level," Crean said. "He got 15 boards and he's probably not going to grade as high in the block outs, so there's room for improvement."
Bryant, meanwhile, couldn't contend with Indiana's dynamic front-line duo.
"These kids have played basketball for a long time," O'Shea said. "They understand there's a big difference between our level basketball and even the game Monday night, Providence is in the Big East, but they're not in the same stratosphere as Indiana right now."
Zeller and Watford were so imposing inside that Bryant's two tallest players — Andrew Scocca and Vlad Kondratyev — combined for seven fouls in less than 16 minutes. When Scocca left after picking up his fourth foul with 4:17 to go in the first half, the Bulldogs didn't have anybody taller than 6-foot-6 to use the rest of the half.
Yet Bryant hung around early against the anxious Hoosiers, even taking a brief 15-14 lead on Indiana's home court when Maynard scored on a putback with 11:37 to go in the first half.
Freshman Yogi Ferrell answered with two free throws to start an 11-0 run that gave Indiana control, and after that it was no contest. The Hoosiers followed that spurt with a 13-3 run and outscored Bryant 10-0 over the final 3:17 to take a 48-28 halftime lead, and the Bulldogs never cut the deficit inside of 20 in the second half.
"We've got to defend and rebound to be successful this year, and I thought we did fairly well throughout the game tonight," Zeller said. "But there were a few plays where we didn't do that and we'll go back to work on it tomorrow."