Cody Zeller, No. 1 Indiana able to shake pesky NDSU

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Cody Zeller and his teammates were not themselves Monday night.

The 7-foot center had an excuse -- he was sick. His teammates looked like they caught the same bug.

Fortunately, the Hoosiers found a remedy at halftime.

Zeller, Remy Abell and Jeremy Hollowell turned the game with a second-half run that finally allowed No. 1 Indiana to pull away to an 87-61 victory over pesky North Dakota State in the first round of the Progressive Legends Classic.

"Your fundamentals, your technique, all your experiences, all those things are really, really important, but there's nothing bigger than energy and toughness. It's got to be there constantly," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "Once we got that figured out tonight and we had some guys that figured it out from the beginning, but we didn't have a team of guys that figured it out from the beginning, and once we did, I thought we played pretty well."

It just took so long to find that winning combination.

This was the kind of game that had given Indiana problems in previous seasons. Fans, and perhaps Indiana's players, figured those struggles were over since the Hoosiers (2-0) reclaimed their spot on top of the college basketball world.

But North Dakota State proved how dangerous assumptions can be.

The Bison (1-1) were content to challenge every shot Indiana shot took -- regardless of the cost.

It took a toll, too.

When the Hoosiers couldn't get their up-tempo, inside-out game in sync, the offense sank. The grind-it-out style made Indiana look like, well, ordinary.

Their outside shooters were just 4 of 11 from the 3-point arc in the first half and 1 of 2 in the second half. The energy that persisted throughout Friday night's season-opening rout over Bryant was missing, too.

Crean was flummoxed.

"There's conventional, there's unconventional and then there's tonight," he said. "We need to do the same thing next Monday and Tuesday. We've got to do the same thing against Ball State and North Carolina. It makes no difference."

Crean learned that lesson the hard way against the same North Dakota State program six years ago. Back then, the Bison rolled into Milwaukee, upset No. 8 Marquette 64-60 and returned home with the Golden Eagles' tourney trophy. They haven't beaten a Top 25 team since.

So before Monday night's game, Crean warned his players not to overlook the Bison. It didn't exactly reverberate until halftime when they were holding a 42-29 lead.

"We're going to see everything from different teams this year," Zeller said after scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds. "I know they're going to try different strategies, that they're going to try to outphysical me, outphysical some of our other guys, try to get us in foul trouble, so you've just got to keep your composure and keep on working."

And it was the young guys who responded.

Abell, a sophomore, made all five of his shots including three 3-pointers to finish with a career-high 14 points. Hollowell, a freshman, scored 14 points in 19 minutes, and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell was a defensive beast.

It was exactly what Indiana needed to get things righted against a team with something to prove.

"We had some fight in us, but we expect to have fight in us," Bison coach Saul Phillips said. "It's amazing to me, they just kept coming at us in waves. Eventually, they leaned at us and a leg went out."

The Bison were led by Marshall Bjorklund with 16 points and Mike Felt with 11, and they hung around long enough to cause some consternation inside sold-out Assembly Hall.

Felt's 3-pointer with 15:55 to play cut Indiana's lead to 48-38.

That's when the Hoosiers' scoring trio turned the game.

Hollowell started the key run with a three-point play and two free throws. Abell followed that with another free throw and a layup and Zeller had added consecutive dunks.

Will Sheehey then hit a 3, Abell made two more 3s and closed out the run with a putback to give Indiana a 71-51 lead. That was all the Hoosiers needed Monday.

Crean expects more when Indiana faces Sam Houston State on Thursday night.

"If we're going to be successful, we've got to have a group of guys where there's very little drop off when we got to the bench," Crean said. "Tonight, we just played."