NC Central-Indiana Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- After suffering another Big Ten road loss, Indiana is surely looking forward to getting back to Assembly Hall. A break from the grueling conference schedule could also help the Hoosiers get back on track.
Looking to improve to 10-0 at home versus non-conference foes, No. 23 Indiana takes an unusual breather from league play to host North Carolina Central on Wednesday night.
While it's encountered its share of difficulties in opposing arenas, Indiana (20-7) has been next to unbeatable on its own court. The Hoosiers are 15-1 in Bloomington, with their only home loss coming 77-74 to Minnesota on Jan. 12.
Indiana has won 19 straight - nine this season - at home versus non-conference opponents by an average of 28.1 points, and lightly regarded North Carolina Central (14-12) doesn't figure to end that streak.
The favorable matchup comes at an opportune time for Indiana, which dropped five spots in the AP poll after losing 78-66 at Iowa on Sunday, the sixth loss for the Hoosiers in eight Big Ten road games.
"It doesn't matter if we're at home or on the road, you've got to have incredible discipline defensively, you've got to have great ball movement offensively, you've got to stay committed to the game-plan," coach Tom Crean said. "You can't let anything become a distraction and that's part of our learning process."
Freshman Cody Zeller had 15 points and 13 rebounds in the loss to the Hawkeyes, but fellow starters Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls combined for just three points while missing 9 of 10 shots from the floor. The Hoosiers shot a season-worst 37.7 percent as a team.
"It's really important, especially after a tough loss like that, to get us looking forward to playing again and leaving it all on the court again," said sophomore guard Victor Oladipo, whose 15 points tied Zeller for the team lead. "We've had high-level practices and we've been competing at a high level the last couple of practices, so we're looking forward to (Wednesday)."
Indiana has won both previous matchups with the Eagles, most recently prevailing 72-56 on Nov. 23, 2010, behind a combined 32 points from Watford and Hulls.
While the Hoosiers should again have the upper hand, Crean says Indiana won't take Thursday's matchup lightly.
"I'm glad that we're going to have a tough game because I really believe that it is," he said. " ... They've got one of the toughest competitors that I think will come through Assembly Hall in Dominique Sutton."
Sutton, a senior transfer from Kansas State whose 16.3 points per game rank fifth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, scored 24 on Saturday to lead North Carolina Central to a 71-66 victory at North Carolina A&T.
"Our primary focus was to be mentally tough and also physically tough," coach LeVelle Moton said. "At this time of the year, toughness wins basketball games."
The Eagles have won a season-high three straight on the road and five of six overall.
"We ready, we ready," Moton said. "We'll take it one by one and enjoy (Saturday's win) and go out there and play what I think is one of the top 10 teams in the country."
Updated February 22, 2012