BLOOMINGTON – Indiana coach Tom Crean cupped his right hand and signaled Thomas Bryant toward the bench – for a chest bump.
Bryant scored only seven points Sunday afternoon but made critical contributions in other areas to lead the 13th-ranked Hoosiers to an 83-55 win over Southeast Missouri State at Assembly Hall. The sophomore center had 10 rebounds and was active defensively with four blocked shots and three steals.
"His energy is something that drives him to be good," teammate Robert Johnson said of Bryant. "Day in and day out, that’s something we have to have from him, regardless of whether he’s scoring points or not."
Johnson, who had 17 points and seven rebounds, chuckled at the memory of Crean and Bryant bumping chests during a stoppage in the final minute of the first half. Bryant had just made three free throws in a span of 29 seconds to help build a 39-26 halftime lead.
"That was spontaneous," Crean said of his fun with Bryant. "He just needed a reminder that it’s OK to have some fun."
With starting forward OG Anunoby sitting out a second straight game with a left ankle injury, Johnson and Josh Newkirk (eight points, eight assists) helped carry an Indiana offense that shot 52 percent.
The only downside for the Hoosiers (7-1) was continued difficulty with ball security. After committing 18 more turnovers, they’ve had at least 15 in every game, with the exception of Friday’s victory over SIU-Edwardsville.
"We’ve got to lock in on making passes one play sooner," Johnson said. "The more we play, the more connected we’ll get."
Indiana faced a second straight Ohio Valley Conference opponent, and the Redhawks (4-4) were more undersized than SIU-Edwardsville. Their disadvantage in height and muscle showed up in Indiana’s 44-33 rebounding edge.
Southeast Missouri State, led by Denzel Mahoney’s 16 points, shot 31 percent. Coach Rick Ray’s team fell to 0-13 all-time against ranked opponents and 0-9 against the Big Ten.
"We kind of got out of our character," Ray said. "Their overall size and length, our guys went in there in the paint and just threw up shots that had no chance of going in."
James Blackmon Jr. had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Hoosiers. De’Ron Davis added 14 points and five rebounds, and Juwan Morgan, who started for Anunoby, scored 11 points.
The good news for a weary Hoosiers team that just endured four games in eight days? They don’t play again until Saturday when Houston Baptist visits Assembly Hall. After that are six more days of rest before facing No. 18 Butler in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
"Four games in eight was pretty tough," Johnson said. "But I’m proud of how guys found the energy to be locked in. It’s all about mindset still (over the next two weeks), coming into practice every day and competing like it is a game. That’s the best way to stay sharp."