James Blackmon scored 22 of his 26 points after halftime and freshman Curtis Jones added seven of his 15 points in overtime as No. 11 Indiana picked up a massive, 103-99 win over No. 3 Kansas in the season-opener.
The Hoosiers finished the night having hit 15-for-32 from beyond the arc. Thomas Bryant scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half while O.G. Anunoby went for 13 points, but the story of the game was that pair of Indiana guards.
Blackmon missed the 2015-16 season with a knee injury. And even when he was healthy, he was struggling. It’s not a secret that he is a defensive liability, and when you combine that with the fact that: A) Indiana couldn’t stop anyone when he was healthy, and B) The Hoosiers went on a run to the Big Ten regular season title after Blackmon went down, he had become something of the forgotten man.
That’s not the case anymore, not after the performance that he had in Honolulu on Friday night.
It wasn’t just that he scored 26 points. Blackmon made three massive three-pointers in the second half and overtime, all three of which were tough, contested jumpers. He was able to get into the paint and get fouled. He made his free throws. He was more than just a static jump-shooter. He could create a shot for himself, whether it was off the dribble or coming off of a screen, and with Yogi Ferrell gone, that’s something that Indiana desperately needs this season.
And then there is Jones, who hit a ridiculous step-back three to put Indiana up by four points with less than a minute left in overtime, following that up with a pair of free throws and the game-sealing dunk. Not a bad way to start a college career.
To be frank, I can already tell that I totally underestimated this Indiana team heading into the season. I did not expect their guards to be as good as they were tonight. They are still lethal in transition, they still have plenty of shooters up and down their lineup and, even without Yogi Ferrell, there are enough playmakers on the roster that they’ll be OK.
My one concern is this: Indiana made a lot of tough shots on Friday night. The 15 threes they hit weren’t just standstill, wide-open jumpers. Jones’ step-back was one of the best shots you’ll see in non-conference play while Blackmon’s degree of difficulty on the jumpers he made down the stretch was quite high. They went in tonight, but how often are those shots going to go in this season? In other words, if Indiana is going to rely on shots like that in order to win games, they’re not going to win as many games as you might think.
Now, to be fair, the difficulty of those shots were cause by Kansas, who is elite defensively. And that win, which will be one of the best of the year come Selection Sunday, is never going anywhere.
All I’m saying is that before you anoint Indiana as a national title contender, let’s see if they can play like this consistently.
On the other side of the ball, there was some stuff to like from Kansas. Frank Mason was sensational – he had 30 points and nine assists and basically fouled out the entire Indiana team – and Svi Mykhailiuk looked as good as he’s ever looked in a big spot, but there were some red flags. Josh Jackson looked overmatched in his first collegiate game. He was in foul trouble, he was just 3-for-11 from the floor and it felt like he vanished from the game in the second half.
I don’t think that last, but I’m sure the ‘Bill Self can’t coach one-and-done’ wolves are already out.
The bigger issue, however, was on the glass. I really think Kansas is going to have a tough time rebounding on the defensive end of the floor throughout the year. They gave up 18 offensive rebounds to an Indiana team that was dealing with foul trouble to their best offensive rebounder, Bryant.
The Jayhawks spent a lot of time playing small-ball, with Jackson or Mykhailiuk at the four. Their big lineup has Carlton Bragg at the four. There’s just not a lot of physicality on this front line, and that could end up being where teams take advantage.