BLOOMINGTON – Junior guard Al Durham was perfect from the floor, junior forward Justin Smith was turning steals into dunks and freshman guard Armaan Franklin played with the poise of a veteran.
It all added up to an impressive Indiana opening night win as the Hoosiers (1-0) downed Western Illinois 98-65 before 17,222 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Granted, Western Illinois is ranked 296th out of 353 teams in KenPom’s preseason rankings, but IU did what it was supposed to do, pulling away with an 18-0 run in the first half to go up 30-15. From there, the Hoosiers never let up.
Smith matched a career high with 24 points, adding seven rebounds and three steals. Durham, back from a knee bruise that sidelined him for IU’s exhibition game against Gannon, had 21 points on a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-3 from 3-point range.
For the 6-foot-8 Smith, who spent the first spring semester last May staying in Bloomington to work on his skill level, the move to small forward sparked him both offensively and defensively. Smith turned three first-half steals into baskets at the other end of the floor as IU scored 12 points off turnovers in the first half and 20 for the game.
“I feel like I’m at my best in transition,” Smith said. “So being able to create turnovers, really getting out and running, using my athleticism, could really benefit our team.”
Indiana coach Archie Miller felt Smith provided the lift the Hoosiers needed early, when they trailed 15-12 with 10:35 left in the half after a 3-pointer from Western Illinois guard Jaeden King.
“He changed the game with his defensive intensity,” Miller said.
While Smith boosted IU with his defense, Durham was the hot hand early, scoring 15 of his 21 points in the first half. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Durham put IU up 44-22 late in the first half, and the Hoosiers -- who shot 62.5 percent from the field in the first half -- took a 46-25 lead into halftime.
The margin would have been greater had Western Illinois guard Kobe Webster not banked in a halfcourt shot at the first-half buzzer. Webster, a former Park Tudor standout from Indianapolis, led the Leathernecks (0-1) with 18 points.
Durham wasn’t even aware he had a perfect night from the floor until he was informed postgame.
“My teammates were finding me,” Durham said. “They did a good job with that. And they trusted me to knock down the shots, and that's what I did today.”
Another player who provided a lift off the bench was sophomore guard Rob Phinisee, who is continuing to work his way back from an abdominal injury. Miller set a limit between 15 to 20 minutes for Phinisee before the game, and Phinisee was productive with 14 points in 18 minutes off the bench.
“I wouldn't say I'm a hundred percent, but I'm still getting my rhythm back,” Phinisee said. “I feel like this game is a big confidence booster for me.”
For the second straight year, IU started a pair of freshmen, with Trayce Jackson-Davis at power forward and Franklin at off guard. Last year, IU started Romeo Langford at shooting guard and Phinisee at the point.
Jackson-Davis had eight points, six rebounds and four blocks in his IU debut while Franklin, playing off the ball, was extremely steady with eight assists to no turnovers.
As a team, IU pushed the tempo and moved the ball, finishing with 18 assists to 11 turnovers.
“Second half we were much more aggressive,” Miller said. “Ball movement, quickness, cutting, our post guys were better in getting in a little bit tighter where we didn't have to deal with as much crowd on the floor. We had some plays where we were a little too cute.
“I would say out of our 11 turnovers, four or five of them, three or four of them were just trying to be cute. (We) had some plays that you don't need to make. And we'll get those out of our system here moving forward.”
Playing a bigger frontline, with 6-8 Smith at small forward, 6-9 Jackson-Davis at power forward and 6-11 center Joey Brunk resulted in physical dominance inside as well. IU outrebounded Western Illinois 47-28, scored 15 second-chance points and blocked six shots.
The Hoosiers played without returning leading scorer and senior guard Devonte Green, who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. But without him, IU was still able to rotate in 10 scholarship players effectively and get 29 points from its bench. The status of Green remains questionable for IU’s next game Saturday at Assembly Hall against Portland State.
“As we get a little bit more healthy and get Devonte back, I think everyone can tell that there’s not a guy that doesn’t belong out there,” Miller said. “So hopefully it continues to give us confidence in what we’re doing is working and will keep getting better.