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  • Associated Press Indiana freshman guard Devonte Green dunks in the second half of Indiana’s victory over UMass-Lowell in Bloomington. Green scored six points.

  • Associated Press Indiana’s OG Anunoby grabs a rebound in front of UMass-Lowell’s Isaac White in the second half Wednesday. Anunoby scored 15 points and grabbed four rebounds as the Hoosiers won their home opener.

Thursday, November 17, 2016 7:04 pm

Freshman-heavy IU rolls

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Many freshmen struggle defensively.

Even if they get to college with individual skill, they lack the experience in team defense to operate as a cohesive unit.

No. 6 Indiana played four freshmen for a combined 42 minutes in Wednesday’s 100-78 win over Massachusetts-Lowell, and three of them are a part of the Hoosiers’ rotation.

"I think almost 40 percent of our possessions had two or more freshmen in the game," IU coach Tom Crean said. "So that’s good learning for us."

Crean has a roster of elite athleticism and so many tall, long-armed players and strong overall depth that he envisions this as an aggressive defense.

Center Thomas Bryant is a presence around the basket – he blocked three shots against the River Hawks – which can free perimeter players to make calculated gambles for steals.

Crean’s defensive approach for this team will likely entail ball pressure and switching on any pick-and-roll plays. Some of that pressure identity began to form on Wednesday night.

"That’s something that we want to do," Crean said. "And that takes communication, and that takes some experience."

The Hoosiers (2-0) drew up a game plan to apply full-court pressure on UMass-Lowell’s point guard, Isaac White, who ended up committing two of his team’s 15 turnovers.

"We’ll get the pressures in," Crean said. "Get the full-court pressures in as we go."

Ball pressure can force opponents to take valuable time off of the shot clock.

But it also means a veteran such as Juwan Morgan has to be vigilant that one of the freshman rotation players – guard Curtis Jones, guard Devonte Green or center De’Ron Davis – isn’t in a wrong place at a wrong time.

"I try to know all five spots, that way whenever I see somebody in there that doesn’t know what they’re doing, if they’re stuck on where they need to be, I can help them," Morgan said. "I’ll try to be directing traffic, making sure they know what to do (and) know where they are going."

At one point in the second half, Bryant became animated in a talk with his teammates.

"I think that’s good," Crean said. "Hopefully I’ll see it on film. That’s what you want."

James Blackmon Jr. had 23 points and seven rebounds as the Hoosiers won their home opener for a 32nd consecutive year, and Robert Johnson had 16 points, five assists and five rebounds to help IU shoot 56 percent.

Fan favorite Tim Priller – the human victory cigar – got Indiana to an even 100 points on a tip-in with 1:07 to play.

But toughness on defense could ultimately determine whether IU improves on last season’s trip to the Sweet 16.

OG Anunoby, who burned UMass-Lowell for a career-high 15 points Wednesday, is a presumptive candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Hoosiers aim to build around him and Bryant.

The flashes of defensive form were there against the River Hawks (1-2), as Green had four steals, Anunoby three and Freddie McSwain Jr. three.

"We want to be able to play fast on both ends," Crean said. "We overhelped a couple times. But the most important thing is we bring fatigue to the game. We’ll learn from it."

cgoff@jg.net