BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton knew the problem Wednesday night.
No. 23 Indiana was too big, too strong, too deep and too athletic to compete against head-to-head.
It was even worse than Moton imagined. Cody Zeller had 17 points and seven rebounds, Victor Oladipo scored 16 points and the Hoosiers cruised to a 75-56 rout over the Eagles.
"I thought we played decent defense," Moton said. "Once they missed, they were able to get some putbacks. We're just not big enough."
Clearly, the Eagles (14-13) were overmatched.
NBA hopeful Dominique Sutton, the transfer from Kansas State, scored 21 points for North Carolina Central. Jeremy Ingram and Emanuel Chapman each had 10 points as the Eagles lost their third straight in the series and dropped to 0-7 against Big Ten schools since making the jump from Division II.
And after falling behind by double digits midway through the first half, the Eagles were never in contention, either.
"We talked before the game and said we couldn't have any live ball turnovers. I told them if they were going to turn it over, then just take it and kick it into the stands and go back and play defense," Moton said. "That's a good team. I'm proud of our effort."
But it wasn't enough against an Indiana team playing for yet another milestone.
In December, they became the first Big Ten school in six decades to beat the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams in one season. A week ago, the Hoosiers (21-7) gave Crean his first 20-win season since coming to Bloomington in 2008, and now they have a 13-0 record outside Big Ten play — their first perfect non-conference season since 1989-90.
Coach Tom Crean told his team the last time it happened, he was a graduate assistant on Jud Heathcote's staff at Michigan State.
Crean couldn't have crafted a better script for this milestone.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, his brother-in-law, came down and sat on the bench after arriving for this week's annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Harbaugh even trotted onto the court with stools during timeouts.
"I've never sat on the bench before," he joked afterward.
But Crean was more worried about the anomaly Big Ten schedule-makers dealt Indiana with two byes in less than two weeks.
The concern was that the Hoosiers might get stale with that many off days.
So Indiana asked the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school to move the game from Dec. 7 to Feb. 22.
"Having a whole week off would have been a long break for us, so just getting out there and playing was nice," Zeller said. "We can learn from games like this, even games like this compared to Big Ten games. So we'll watch the film and try to get better every day."
All it really did, though, was prolong the inevitable for a school in its first season as a full-fledged Division I member.
Indiana shot 51 percent from the field, had a 35-16 rebounding advantage and never gave the Eagles a chance to challenge after building a double-digit lead midway through the first half. Indiana has won four times in five games and is 15-1 at home.
"We game-planned for this like we do for anybody else. You're coaching to win the game," Crean said. "Practice is a time to improve, but you want to improve in the game and you've got to bring substantial qualities into the game to do that."
The disparity was evident all night.
North Carolina Central went more than 9 minutes in the first half without getting a rebound and had only four during the final 15:09 of the half. Even worse, the Eagles were never really in contention.
Moton called time out after Indiana scored the first six points. The move was only a speed bump for the Hoosiers, who used a 13-3 run to make it 21-7 midway through the first half, then extended the margin to as much as 24-9. After North Carolina Central closed to 28-18, the Hoosiers built a 39-26 halftime lead and put it away with a 10-2 run early in the second half.
"It builds our confidence a little bit because it's an undefeated (non-conference) season," Oladipo said. "But we've got to turn right back around and play another and a road game at that."