Tipoff: Sam Houston State at Indiana, 7 p.m. Thursday
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BLOOMINGTON – What's up with Remy Abell? Isn't he supposed to be a backcourt afterthought, top-ranked Indiana's fourth option behind Jordan Hulls, Yogi Ferrell and Victor Oladipo?
Not if you believe in numbers, heart and humility.
Abell is having a perfect scoring season and if it won't last, if it likely will end with Thursday night's Progressive Legends Classic second-round game against Sam Houston State, who cares.
“That would be great if I did that,” Abell said about going the season without missing a shot, “but I just want to shoot with confidence and help (our) team win.”
Suddenly, Abell has tapped into the can't-miss accuracy -- if only for two games -- of teammate Jordan Hulls. The sophomore buries threes so pure they barely hit net. He shoots with confidence that belies last season's struggles.
This was a guy who barely played for the first two-thirds of last season, didn't make his first three-pointer until February, then emerged as an off-the-bench force. He's maintained that momentum, and ratcheted it up a notch.
Take, for instance, Monday night's 87-61 victory over North Dakota State.
Abell was 5-for-5 from the field for a career-high 14 points. That makes him 7-for-7 for the season, including 5-for-5 from three-point range. He's averaging 13.0 points on the season.
He has had one scoring glitch. He is 7-for-8 on free throws.
Abell doesn't boast or talk himself up. He's all about doing his job and playing his role.
“I don't have any idea (when I'll get in). I'm sitting there on the bench playing the game with my mind. You can still play the game with your mind while you're on the bench. I'm looking and seeing the personnel and what the other team is running so when you get in the game, you know what to expect. Come in and be ready.”
Abell added five rebounds in his 17 minutes. He showed that, on a title-contending team full of players getting national acclaim, unheralded players can still make a difference.
None of this surprises teammate Cody Zeller, the most heralded Hoosier.
“He's been doing that all summer. He's made a lot of improvements. He was big in a couple of games last year. He carried that over to the summer and these first two games.”
In fact, coach Tom Crean said, it started in the late spring, when Abell returned to his Louisville home to work with his former Eastern High School coach, Joe Rogers.
“When he came back,” Crean said, “he was tremendous. He had a little different resolve. He continued to make strides.
“He had a very good freshman year. We had an older team. There were not as many opportunities for him. He did a pretty good job with the opportunities he had.”
That was highlighted by the 13 points in had in a February victory at Purdue. That was high career high until Monday night.
Crean said Abell's offense was fueled by his defense.
“That's the hardest thing to get any player to understand. That's the toughness part. That's what defense is, that tenacity. He got some tough assignments (against North Dakota State), and it carried over to his offense.”
IU's offense was once again dominated by Zeller. Despite being under the weather, he just missed a second straight double-double, totaling 22 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
“He was sick,” Crean said. “I'm sure there are other times he doesn't feel well I don't hear about it.
“He did not have a great defensive game, but he was hard to deal with on the offensive end. He just keeps getting tougher. He did an outstanding job with a lot of room for growth and improvement.
“That's the great thing about Cody. He understands that. He spends a lot of time on the things he wants to get better at.”
Freshman Jeremy Hollowell came off the bench for 14 points. Hulls had 11 points.
North Dakota State (1-1) was led by forward Marshall Bjorklund's 16 points.
At halftime IU honored former Hoosier standout Bill Garrett. This was the 65th anniversary that Garrett became the first African American to play in the Big Ten.
As a senior in 1951, he led the Hoosiers to a 19-2 record and the No. 2 national ranking. He earned All-America honors and was drafted by the Boston Celtics.
Garrett was drafted into the Army after graduation and when he got out two years later, the Celtics opportunity was gone. He played three years with the Harlem Globetrotters. He went on to become a high school coach and led Indianapolis Crispus Attucks to the 1959 state title. He later became assistant dean for student services at IUPUI before passing away because of a heart condition in 1974.
Garrett's family got a standing ovation during the halftime ceremony.
“You don't want to lose when you're honoring greatness,” Crean said. “It was like having the 1987 champion team last year. You don't want to do anything to spoil the night. It's a big deal.”
Hulls connected with a couple of early three-pointers to boost IU to an 18-9 lead. The Hoosiers stayed in cruise control and with Zeller scoring 14 points, they built a 42-29 halftime lead.
North Dakota State opened the second half with a 6-2 run to close within nine and was still within 10 at the 15-minute mark before Hollowell's five straight points highlighted a 15-5 run that gave IU a 20-point cushion.
Abell followed with an 8-0 personal scoring streak to ensure there would be no Bison comeback.
“(Indiana) is deep and good and can do a lot of things,” North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips said. “You have to be able to play 40 minutes against these guys, and if they keep leaning on you, we are not the only team that's going to give in to it, I can promise you that.”