BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Indiana had coach Tom Crean on edge for the first 31 minutes of its match-up with Georgia at Barclays Center Monday night.
Leading by just three points with nine minutes remaining in the second half, senior Jordan Hulls hit a three-pointer then drew a charge on the next defensive possession.
On the ensuing possession, he hit another three-pointer, pushing the lead to nine. The Hoosiers would eventually lead by as many as 15, going on to win, 66-53, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Indiana overcame early offensive struggles from the opening tip, with Georgia ripping off a 7-0 run after the Hoosiers scored the opening basket.
Zeller was in foul trouble for much of the first half, taking just three shots in the first 20 minutes. The Indiana offense was predominantly working off of one-on-one matchups on the perimeter, which translated into just 32 percent from the field.
The Hoosiers turned up the tempo in the second, led by guard Victor Oladipo’s aggressiveness in getting to the basket.
But it was Hulls’ three-possession run that keyed the Indiana victory Monday night. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.
“We had a lot of different sources of energy. Jordan Hulls is a big part of that,” Crean said. “With all the NBA people here tonight, that’s an NBA guard. That young man is a huge winner who has a lot of skills.”
As a senior leader alongside the young Yogi Ferrell, Hulls is the experienced half of the Hoosier backcourt.
“Hulls is a very good player,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “He’s a very good player. He’s never sped up. He understands the game.
“He has an old man’s game. He’s got shot fakes. He’s a great piece with Zeller because Zeller draws so much attention. The way they’re used together is very effective.”
Having Hulls and other weapons like Oladipo and senior Christian Watford, not all of the weight falls on Zeller’s shoulders. While many expect him to have perhaps a National Player of the Year-type season, he may not need to be as key in big spots for the Hoosiers because of the other options Crean has at his disposal.
Is he capable of it? Absolutely. But as Oladipo showed with his seven straight points early in the second half, Crean can look to other players with Zeller always in his back pocket.
“They’re a very balanced team. He doesn’t have to shoot every time for them to be good,” said Fox. “They’re so balanced, he doesn’t have to have a dozen shots a night for them to win.”
“What they learned is they can play a lot of different paces,” said Crean. “Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
“The thing about Cody is you can play around him or you can play through him. He’s had a rough week with being sick and that’s not an excuse, but he’ll be fine.”
Indiana takes on the winner of UCLA vs. Georgetown in the championship game of the Legends Classic Tuesday.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_