By JOHN BAUERNFEIND | IDS
In the aftermath of the IU men’s basketball team’s 83-80 overtime loss during its first Big Ten conference game of the season at Illinois, much of the talk centered on players and things not named Noah Vonleh.
There was sophomore guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s career-high 30 points.
The Hoosiers turned the ball over 23 times that game, compared to Illinois’s 10.
There was graduate student guard Evan Gordon’s game-winning baseline jumper at the buzzer that came up just short.
Not to be forgotten was freshman forward Vonleh, who scored 16 points and came up one rebound shy of posting a double-double in his first Big Ten game.
Despite his impressive stat line, it was a tale of two halves for Vonleh.
After posting 13 points in the first half–including going 2-for-3 from 3-point range–he scored just three second-half points, all on free throws.
Vonleh said it was beneficial for him playing against Illinois’s Nnanna Egwu.
“It’s a great experience,” Vonleh said. “It’s probably the best league in the country. Playing against guys like Egwu that are real physical, strong. So it’s gonna be a battle every night.”
Vonleh and Egwu guarded each other when they were both in the game, playing one another to a draw.
Egwu scored eight points, but it took him 11 shots to do so. He also managed only two rebounds the entire game.
Vonleh, on the other hand, was held without a two-point field goal.
The two big men enter Sunday’s contest in different runs of form.
Vonleh is fresh off two consecutive double-double’s, while Egwu has been held to 10 points in his past three games.
Still, Egwu–who is listed at 6’11, 255 lbs.–is a presence in the paint, blocking 1.8 shots per game in Big Ten play.
Despite Egwu’s size and defensive capabilities, Vonleh said he felt free to unleash his shot when the junior didn’t play him out on the 3-point line.
“Egwu didn’t want to come out and play me all the way, so when I caught it, he didn’t respect it, I took the shot,” Vonleh said. “I’m just gonna keep doing that if they don’t come out there and guard.”
In six Big Ten games played, Vonleh is shooting 75 percent from beyond the arc.
After Indiana’s 71-66 loss Tuesday to Michigan State, IU Coach Tom Crean said Vonleh is always improving.
“He’s got a tremendous percentage from the 3-point line, and you’re not really stopping him down low without a double team,” Crean said. “I think he’s very selective, he doesn’t hunt those three’s.”
Crean said Vonleh is the type of player that can hurt opponents inside and from 3-point range.
“He’s a mutli-dimensional player, that’s what we recruited him to be,” Crean said. “That’s what he’ll be long after he leaves us. That’s what he works very, very hard to be. He’s really learning a lot about the game and improving all the time.”
Follow reporter John Bauernfeind on Twitter @JohnBauernfeind