STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The 7-foot center raced out to midcourt to trap D.J. Newbill, typically not the best defensive matchup against Penn State’s quick guard.
But Cody Zeller is no normal 7-foot center. Indiana’s star sophomore stole the ball from Newbill and tracked down the loose ball for an open dunk.
The fifth-ranked Hoosiers used a big first-half run and poked and prodded the Nittany Lions defensively all game in a 74-51 victory Monday night.
Sometimes when your shots aren’t there for you or your free throws aren’t there as long as your defense is there, you’ve got a chance to stay in the game, Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
Both facets of the Indiana’s run-and-gun game were on display when it counted most. The breakneck offense was rarely stopped in the first half before the pace slowed down in a sloppy second half.
It barely mattered after Indiana (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) built a 19-point lead in the first half behind the inside-out game of Christian Watford (16 points) and the quick-release jumpers of Jordan Hulls (14 points).
Indiana had the top scoring offense in the nation (87.9 points) entering Monday night’s blowout.
But Crean credited his team’s effort on the other side of the court for the hot start.
I thought our defense did a lot of that, he said. I think our guys were really locked in.
Jermaine Marshall had 11 points for the Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-2), which had a five-game home winning streak snapped. Ross Travis added 14 points and five rebounds.
Penn State shot 31 percent (19 of 60).
Penn State had mismatch problems across the court with Crean’s collection of athletic Hoosiers.
For instance, not many teams feature a 7-foot center who can run the court as deftly as Zeller. His steal of Newbill early in the game typified Penn State’s frustrating night.
Zeller did land awkwardly after taking two disjointed steps, but he got up and looked fine running back up the court.
As if any more proof were needed, Zeller finished another break with a dunk for a 39-21 lead with 4:34 left in the first half. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Otherwise Indiana rarely got tripped up in a road tuneup for a showdown with No. 8 Minnesota in Bloomington on Saturday.
Penn State was at least able to keep up with Indiana on the glass, edging the Big Ten’s best team on the boards 35-33. Marshall had seven rebounds.
Some of that was technique, Crean said about losing the rebounding edge. Some of that was just not rebounding the ball with two hands tonight.
The slower pace in the second half played to Penn State’s favor after the teams combined for 15 turnovers over the first 9 minutes after halftime.
Still the Hoosiers’ lead didn’t dip below double digits in the second half.
Indiana shot 52 percent (22 of 42) for the game, and Crean liked how his aggressive team got to the free throw line 34 times, though hitting just 64 percent.
The huge thing for us tonight was getting to the foul line, he said.
We can certainly shoot the ball better from the foul line, but we got to the foul line.