Pretty much everything that could be said about Indiana's performance against North Carolina has already been said. Indiana played great in a wonderfully spectacular display of team basketball. In the midst of an overwhelmingly stellar showing from the Hoosiers, I believe there was an important development, albeit a small one: Jeremy Hollowell got a little confidence.
There is no way around it -- Hollowell has looked a little overmatched this year. It's like your first time driving on the interstate. For years you'd been sitting shotgun, messing with the radio while your parents drove. Sure, it seemed like things were moving fast, but it wasn't that bad. Then, all of the sudden, you're behind the wheel and WHAM, every car is driving 100 MPH and you feel completely out of sorts.
That's been Hollowell so far this year -- out of sorts.
After scoring 12 and 14, respectively, against Bryant and North Dakota State, Hollowell had just 13 points and eight turnovers in Indiana's next four games. He was also 1 for 11 from beyond the arc heading in to last night. To his credit, Hollowell has been an effective rebounder (six in 15 minutes against Sam Houston State and five in 13 minutes versus Georgia) during his offensive slump, which is something IU sorely needs. This group won't struggle to score points too often, but if Hollowell can defend and rebound, he'll find playing time.
I'll cut him some slack because he's a freshman, and he's playing out of position. With Indiana's frontcourt situation, Hollowell has had to play a lot of the 4 and 5, when he's more suited to be a 3.
I've seen Hollowell play a handful of times in high school. I was never particularly impressed with his shot selection, but when you're by far the best player on your high school team, you are probably going to take some questionable shots. What I noticed about him is how quiet and unassuming (nearly bashful) he is on the court, and how he has the potential to be a real offensive weapon. He's also got a little Watford to his game, preferring to play in an organized halfcourt set rather than at full-speed.
Coming in to the UNC game, I felt like Hollowell was his own worst critic. Was he playing poorly? Sure. But it seemed like every time he turned it over or missed an open shot, he just beat himself up. It shows that he cares -- and I like that -- but it also means he is pressing.
It's understandable. As a big-time recruit, he joins a team that's really, really good without him, and he wants to contribute. Plus, Hollowell is coming off the bench as a 10-minutes-per-game spare part after being The Man on just about every team he's be on in his life.
After missing his fair share of open 3-pointers, a shot he can definitely knock down, I thought all Hollowell needed was to just see a jumper go through the hoop. No luck in the first half.
Hollowell checked in at the 10:32 mark. Thirteen seconds later, he found himself open at the 3-point line. He got the ball, stepped into his shot and fired --- clank. It's tough to come in to the game and shoot on your first touch, but he was open and appeared to shoot it confidently.
Hollowell's next four minutes were a rap sheet: turnover (9:53), layup swatted into the crowd (7:54), back iron on a wiiiiiide open 3-pointer (7:38), foul (6:07) and bench (6:03).
Whew, that was ugly. At least you can't accuse Hollowell of being inactive.
Hollowell did mix in an offensive rebound that led to a Victor Oladipo bucket, and he made a nice extra pass to Jordy Hulls for an open 3-pointer, which he missed (WHAT?!). So it wasn't all bad, just about 98 percent bad.
I fully expected Hollowell to pretty much shut it down from there. I mean, after that stretch and what he's done the last four games, I figured he'd come in and play a little Tom Pritchard ball -- pass, screen (half the time a moving screen with ol' Pritch) and rebound.
Hollowell made his first appearance of the second half at the 8:41 mark. He wasn't shy this time, either. Although there was a little less pressure now that the game was a full-blown smackdown (70-54).
With 7:53 left in the contest, the Lawrence Central native, again on his first touch, got the ball at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. He faced up, took two short dribbles to the right, crossed over to the left and let one fly from 18 feet -- clank ... backboard ... and in.
It wasn't pretty, but Hollowell shot the ball and it went through the basket. As anyone who has ever played the game knows, there's just something about the ball leaving your hand and seeing it go through the hoop. It gives you a confidence lift and an immediate feel for the game.
That friendly roll was exactly what Hollowell needed.
Two minutes later (6:42), North Carolina lost Hollowell on a secondary break. Hulls drove it to the hoop and kicked it out to him on the wing. No one was within 10 feet. Hollowell rose, fired and in the words of the immortal Gus Johnson -- "Pure!" (1:55 mark in the highlights below)
North Carolina at Indiana Highlights (via IUAthletics).
Am I reading too much into a short sequence in a blowout? Maybe. But it was still Indiana versus North Carolina, it was still on ESPN and it was still an electric atmosphere.
In today's world, athletes -- especially kids -- know what's being said about them. All they have to do is Google their name, and instantly, they'll find a boatload of things. Twitter allows any fan to directly contact any kid on the Indiana team, which isn't always a good thing.
Hollowell knew he wasn't playing well, and I'm sure he could feel a little pressure. Plus, his playing time is about to be threatened with the impending returns of Derek Elston, Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. When you're trying to make a case for minutes and a role on the team, every single second of game time counts, whether it's a 30-point game or a back-and-forth nail biter.
What I saw Tuesday night was a kid turning the corner. For the better part of six games, Hollowell looked like he was trying too hard, forcing things in an effort to find his niche with this group. In the second half against North Carolina, Hollowell was another weapon in the Hoosiers' arsenal.
The speed of the game takes some getting used to for most rookies. As soon as Hollowell settles down and realizes that what feels like the Indy 500 on hardwood is in fact basketball, a game at which he's very good, he's going to be a solid player for this team.
I think he started realizing that last night.