Top-ranked Indiana was cruising through another dominant first half when Austin Etherington crashed to the floor, slapping the Assembly Hall court in pain.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said it was too early to tell the extent of Etherington’s knee injury. But he acknowledged the emotional impact the injury had on the Hoosiers.
“There’s no question, when you have a close-knit team like this … it affected everybody,” Crean said. “And I’m proud of the way they bounced back. Because they were really bothered. … They were really concerned about their friend.”
The Hoosiers still cruised to a 100-66 win over Central Connecticut, improving to 9-0 for the second straight season. It’s the first time since the 1974-75 and ’75-76 seasons that the Hoosiers have started at least 9-0 in consecutive seasons.
Cody Zeller had a career high 19 rebounds and added 19 points. Christian Watford scored 21, Victor Oladipo had 15 points and nine rebounds, Will Sheehey had 12 points and Jordan Hulls scored 10.
“I thought we closed this game really well,” Crean said. “Cody, 19 and 19, goodness gracious. He earned everything he got.”
The Blue Devils boasted the nation’s top individual scorer coming into the game in sophomore guard Kyle Vinales (25.9 ppg). But he mustered just seven points on 3-of-15 shooting against the Hoosiers.
“I knew coming into this game that Kyle was going to have a tough night,” Blue Devils coach Howie Dickenman said. “When you have the leading scorer coming into this game, and you’re Indiana, you’re going to make sure he doesn’t get anything.”
Instead, it was Matt Hunter who did the damage for Central Connecticut (4-4). Hunter scored 40 points, tying an Assembly Hall record for individual scoring by an IU opponent.
Michigan State’s Terry Furlow set the mark in 1976, and the Spartans’ Shawn Respert tied it in 1995.
Steve Alford has the Assembly Hall scoring record with 42 points against Michigan State in 1987.
Hunter was 13-of-25 from the field, including 6-of-11 on 3-pointers, and 8-of-8 on free throws. The rest of the Blue Devils: 11-of-47 from the field, 5-of-8 on free throws.
“I think it was a full team effort,” Oladipo said of IU’s defense on Vinales. “Will was on him, Remy [Abell] was on him, [I was on him]. We did a good job not letting him get comfortable.
“But we gave somebody else 40 points. Back to the drawing board, we’ve got to do better than that.”
“They’re a hard team to play. We knew they would be,” Crean said.
“We definitely wanted to take [Vinales] out of the game. That opened up opportunity for others.”
The Blue Devils, playing a No. 1 team for the first time, weren’t intimidated. The score was tied 9-9 after Hunter converted a traditional 3-point play at the 15:54 mark of the first half.
“Coming here, we knew the task was going to be close to insurmountable,” Dickenman conceded. “We just wanted to come here and work as hard as we could for 40 minutes.”
But the Hoosiers answered with a 40-20 run over the next 13 minutes before Etherington was injured while fouling Terrell Allen.
“Austin had a couple tough fouls, I was getting him out when he got hurt,” Crean said.
While Etherington hasn’t been a huge contributor to the Hoosiers this season — he had played a total of 45 minutes in six games before Saturday night — his teammates acknowledged it was tough to see him hurt.
“There’s no preparing for anything like that,” Zeller said.