No matter what happens the rest of the season, Crean knows he has a solid leading man in point guard Yogi Ferrell.
Ferrell continued his rise with 25 points while Noah Vonleh added 14 points and nine rebounds as Indiana easily defeated Kennesaw State 90-66 on Sunday afternoon.
The Hoosiers (10-3), who open conference play on New Year’s Eve at Illinois, shot a season-best 62.7 percent in their nonconference finale. Ferrell chipped in six assists and five rebounds while shooting 8 for 12.
Expected to assume more scoring duties in his sophomore season, Ferrell has not disappointed. The diminutive, lightning-quick floor general is shooting 42.7 percent on 3-pointers and averaging 16.8 points a game — team bests in each category.
“I’m trying to make the game as simple as possible,” Ferrell said. “What’s built consistency is pushing the ball. I’m trying to find different outlets and ways to score.”
There were plenty of both against Kennesaw State, which allowed nine dunks and 17 fast-break points. The Hoosiers turned high-percentage offense into an art form, scoring a season-high 58 points in the paint, 23 more at the foul line and their remaining nine from beyond the arc.
“We did some really good things today, no doubt about that,” Crean said.
Will Sheehey scored 15 points to help secure Indiana’s third straight season with at least 10 non-league victories.
Orlando Coleman had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Owls (3-10). Kennesaw State was outrebounded 41-29 and committed 18 turnovers in its fifth straight loss.
Indiana, outside the national rankings after spending much of last season at No. 1, won for the second time in three days and extended its nonconference home winning streak to 38.
Still, the Hoosiers have clear areas that need improvement. Interior defense has been a concern, and they are averaging 15.9 turnovers a game after committing 20 more on Sunday.
Crean likes Indiana’s talent but might have preferred another marquee win or two entering the 18-game Big Ten schedule. The Hoosiers faced four teams from BCS conferences, beating Washington but losing to Notre Dame, Syracuse and Connecticut.
“I like where we are,” Ferrell said. “We’ve got a lot of games under our belt. Being young doesn’t really play a factor now. We’ve just got to start taking care of that ball.”
The mistakes barely made a difference against Kennesaw State.
The Owls gained their last lead, 6-4, on a follow by Coleman at 17:03 of the first half, but quickly showed they were in over their heads and never challenged.
Ferrell led the Hoosiers on a 12-0 run, scoring eight straight points and feeding Sheehey for a lay-in to give Indiana a 16-6 lead with 14:25 left.
The Hoosiers went ahead by double figures midway through the period on back-to-back dunks by Luke Fischer, then used a 12-3 spurt to lead 34-18. After Charlie Byers scored for Kennesaw State, Indiana reeled off eight unanswered points to make it 42-20 with 1:48 left in the half.
The Hoosiers led 43-25 at intermission and sent Kennesaw State reeling as soon as the second half began, scoring on five of their first six possessions. Ferrell boosted the lead to 62-34 by securing a rebound with one hand behind his back, finishing a transition layup through contact and then making the free throw to complete the three-point play.
“He was phenomenal,” Kennesaw State coach Lewis Preston said. “When you play a young man of that caliber, you can’t give him straight drives to the basket.”
Indiana reached the 90-point plateau for the fifth time. Fischer, a freshman center making a case for more regular playing time, had 10 points and three of Indiana’s five blocks.
Crean has yet to decide on a permanent rotation as he continues to work through a versatile but largely unproven bench. He said he’s excited over how the team is growing into one built around defense and rebounding with Ferrell at the controls.
“They are a very young group,” Crean said. “We’re going to get better shooting the ball (from the perimeter). We have to be a hustling, energetic, scrappy team every step of the way.”
After 55 losses over the past two seasons, Kennesaw State is looking for slight improvement ahead of play in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Owls, who still have two games left on a seven-game road trip, have given up 70 or more points seven times.
“The biggest thing is coming out with a renewed sense of purpose as we move forward,” Preston said. “Everyone is 0-0. For us it comes down to league play.”