DAYTON, Ohio – Unlike Temple, who squeaked out a 76-72 victory against North Carolina State on Friday, Indiana had the luxury of an easy win, defeating James Madison 83-62 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Hoosiers led 43-22 at the half, and led by as much as 42 points.
Since the game was pretty much over by halftime, Indiana was able to limit its starters’ minutes and bring seven players off the bench. On the other hand, Temple only played two bench players, and three starters (senior guard Khalif Wyatt, senior forward Scootie Randall, and senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson) played 38 minutes or more.
“We didn’t get in any foul trouble yesterday,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “That allowed us to shorten the bench.”
Much like NC State, Indiana loves to run down the floor and maintain a fast pace of play. The Owls will have to slow down the pace in order to increase their odds of winning. Not only is Indiana a better opponent than the Wolfpack, Temple has to worry about the fatigue that its players may have after the NC State game.
“I’m always concerned about that,” Dunphy said when asked about possible fatigue. “But I think the big thing is how talented they are, how big they are, how well coached they are. That’s the biggest concern.”
Indiana coach Tom Crean downplayed the idea that Temple will be too fatigued to keep up with his team.
“I think timeouts play into it, and the 20-minute halftime,” Crean said. “We’ve tried to pace out season for times like this, plus you want to develop the quality of your bench. You don’t want to wear out your starters because you want to play at a certain pace. But I don’t know how relevant that is this time of year.”
“These timeouts – you can take a nap during some of these timeouts,” Dunphy said. “I don’t have that much to say. I’m not that interesting a guy. I’m done in 20 seconds. It’s a long time out there, so you get a lot of rest. That’s the nature of the NCAA tournament.”
The Owls will have to deal with a well-rounded offensive attack from the Hoosiers. Four Indiana players average double-digit points per game, led by sophomore forward Cody Zeller, who averages 16.9 points per game, along with 8.2 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Anthony Lee said toughness is Zeller’s best trait as a player.
“He’s really strong, they look for him a lot,” Lee said. “He’s an important piece of the offense, just his presence in there. We’re going to have to try to stop his activity all around.”
“I think we’re going to have an even bigger challenge tomorrow because Zeller is a big guy,” Jefferson said. “He gets a lot of rebounds, and everyone on the team crashed the boards as well. We just have to battle again and try to stay physical with these guys.”
Indiana’s other big threat is junior guard Victor Oladipo. Oladipo is widely regarded as a frontrunner for many national player of the year awards, averaging 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He shoots 59.9% from the field, which is the highest percentage of any qualifying guard in the nation.
“He’s an all-around good player,” sophomore guard Will Cummings said. “He’s really athletic. He just plays hard on the offensive and defensive end.”
“He plays really hard,” graduate guard T.J. DiLeo said. “He’s a versatile player. He can jump out of the gym. He’s really a tough matchup. As long as we can contain him, make him take tough shots, I think that’s the key to guarding him. I think he’s a really good player, but I think we’ve got people who are going to step up to it.”
If Temple manages to pull off the win, it will likely be the program’s biggest win in the Dunphy era. To win, the Owls will need to control the pace, make smart decisions, shoot efficiently, and contain Zeller and Oladipo. They will not lack for effort, they said.
“We have a lot of guys that don’t want to lose, and that’s the big key,” Cummings said. “That’s why we won the last game, we don’t want to lose in the NCAA tournament. We’re gonna go out there, play for 40 minutes hard, and give everything we have.”
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.