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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 10:56 pm

Observations from Hoosiers' win over Tar Heels

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — Let's search for some takeaways from Indiana's 76-67 win over North Carolina on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.

* With 4:40 to play in the first half, Hoosiers point guard Josh Newkirk threw a lob from beyond the 3-point arc that I thought surely was too high for its intended target. But I hadn't realized OG Anunoby would be on the receiving end. The ball was parallel to the top of the square on the backboard, and Anunoby, freakishly athletic, somehow leaped, snared it with his right hand and jammed it through the net all in one motion. Breathtaking. Play of the season so far.

* Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Indiana has six wins over teams ranked in the top three. That's the most in the nation. In big games, the Hoosiers have a way of rising to the occasion and did so again against the Tar Heels, who are now 7-1.

* Barring something unexpected, like an injury or an extended slump, I think Tom Crean has found his starting lineup. Newkirk's play has been solid, and the offense flows so much better with Newkirk at the controls because he's able to probe the defense. He remains the only true point guard in Indiana's rotation, as walk-on Johnny Jager has yet to play.

* Zach McRoberts played again. Played hard again. But four fouls in five minutes is an accomplishment reminiscient of former Indiana center Hanner Mosquera-Perea.

* James Blackmon Jr. was explosive early and lost some of that as the game went along. Crean mentioned he put "a lot of throught" into bringing Blackmon off the bench because of his conditioning. I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago that I suspected Blackmon had a bruised knee. Indiana still isn't confirming the specifics of the injury that kept him out of Sunday's win over Mississippi Valley State. But Blackmon himself said after tonight's game that he was just "bruised up" in last week's loss in Fort Wayne.

* Impressive effort on the boards. The Tar Heels did have 13 offensive rebounds, but their shooting was so scattered (39 percent from the field, 13 of 22 from the foul line) that they were bound to collect some second chances. The Hoosiers really did box out well, especially early in the game.

"From the tip, we were aggressive on the glass on both ends," said small forward Robert Johnson, who had 11 points and six boards.

* OG Anunoby continues to play like a star. He had 16 points and five boards. But he may be on the shelf for a while if Crean's fears of a high-ankle sprain ring true. Anunoby was helped off the court in the final moments with the game in hand.

* The importance of the win, beyond adding a signature line to the NCAA tournament resume, was how it sets up Indiana for the next couple weeks. The next three games are against SIU Edwardsville, Southeast Missouri State and Houston Baptist. The Hoosiers won't likely be tested again until the Crossroads Classic against No. 18 Butler.

* Moment worth mentioning: former Hoosier star Isiah Thomas and his plea at the halftime microphone for Bob Knight to "come home." The legendary coach skipped out on the reunion of the 1980-81 Hoosiers a year after the 1975-76 team was honored. At this point, as much as Crean and athletic director Fred Glass have done to try to coax Knight back to campus for the first time since his firing, you'd have to think it never will happen. And that's sad. But he's only human.