BLOOMINGTON | A young Indiana team is learning to play at a breakneck pace.
The Hoosiers are enduring their fair share of growing pains along the way.
Yogi Ferrell scored 16 points and had a season-high eight assists, and Indiana overcame mistakes and sloppy play in a 79-66 win over Nicholls State on Friday night.
"What was important was to build on our style we need to keep establishing," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "We wanted to bring tempo. Anytime you have that situation it's not going to be as smooth."
The Hoosiers got caught up in Notre Dame's favored pace in a 79-72 setback at the Crossroads Classic. They were determined not to let that happen again, speeding up the game with intense pressure and early offense.
Ferrell, an emerging star at point guard, was in the middle of it all, leading Indiana's defense at the point of attack, facilitating and hitting 5 of 7 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Crean didn't mind that Ferrell was charged with four of the Hoosiers' season-high 20 turnovers.
"He was flying up the court, moving the ball, attacking," Crean said. "We need to keep it going. That's what he's capable of. Yogi had an outstanding game at both ends."
Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell added 14 points apiece for the Hoosiers (9-3), who bounced back from the disappointing loss to Notre Dame by putting the Colonels away with two notable runs.
Dantrell Thomas scored 15 of his 24 points in the first half for the Colonels (3-6), who got as close as 12 points in the second half but were 4-of-16 from 3-point range.
Coach J.P. Piper said Indiana's blinding speed caused trouble from the outset.
"Until you see it in person, it's hard to have your team understand it," Piper said. "I was really pleased with our effort to defend. I did not want to get into an up-and-down game with these guys. I thought we'd give up 150 points."
For much of the night, the Hoosiers struggled to pull away from a heavy underdog. They eventually improved to 8-0 at home by repeatedly earning trips to the line against a smaller opponent. The Colonels came in allowing opponents 36 free throw attempts a game. The Hoosiers made 26 in 35 attempts.
"We wanted to exploit that," Crean said. "Our guys did a good job of recognizing that they were packing the middle of the floor. There were some player adjustments. You can play fast and at the same time be aware of what the game is giving you."
The Hoosiers shot 55 percent from the field (24 of 44), assisting on 13 of their baskets. Stanford Robinson scored eight points and fellow freshman Noah Vonleh added six with nine rebounds to help Indiana win its 37th consecutive nonconference game at Assembly Hall.
It wasn't pretty — or easy.
Devin Davis hit four of Indiana's 11 free throws during the 23-7 run midway through the opening half that gave the Hoosiers their first double-figure lead. Hollowell's fast-break layup with 4 1/2 minutes left made it 30-16.
Indiana led 37-22 at the break, stretched the lead to 19 in the opening minutes of the second half on Sheehey's dunk, then finally made it a 20-point game when Sheehey knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 71-50 with just over 6 minutes left.
Sheehey, who entered with just six 3-pointers this season, made two in the Hoosiers' 16-8 spurt that took place in less than three minutes and forced a Nicholls State timeout.
"There's always a point in the game where you can pick and choose where to open the game up," Sheehey said. "Yogi made a great play on one of them, found me, and when he gets in the lane and makes plays for everybody else, it's pretty easy."
What impressed Piper was how Ferrell controlled the flow and finally let Indiana run away.
"He puts so much pressure on you," Piper said. "He almost lulled us to sleep. He didn't hunt baskets in the first half. He kind of jumped up on us in the second. I love the way he manages a game: smart, smart kid."
The Colonels were plagued by turnovers and poor jump shooting in their final nonconference tuneup before beginning Southland Conference play Jan. 2 against New Orleans.
Indiana wraps up the nonconference slate on Sunday before its Big Ten opener at Illinois on New Year's Eve. Some fine-tuning is in order, but the Hoosiers know who they want to be.
"We want to get after people," Ferrell said. "We want to set the pace for the game. We want to come out strong going into this (holiday) break."