Crean borrows from playbook of Knight’s pal to brighten IU’s tourney outlook

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Wait a minute!

I thought famed baseball manager Tony La Russa was Bob Knight’s friend.

Well, the Hoosiers’ current coach, Tom Crean, is a big La Russa fan as well. Actually, Crean has known La Russa since his days coaching at Marquette. And after IU’s big road victory over Iowa on Tuesday, Crean gave a tip of the hat to one of Major League Baseball’s winningest managers.

Casual IU fans might have noticed a couple of unfamiliar faces wearing cream and crimson on the court in the last few games–most notably walk-on Harrison Niego, who recently has played early and at critical times.

As this season has worn on, several bench players including OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan also have seen increased playing time.

Perhaps Crean learned his lesson three years ago when the Hoosiers had a top-ranked team but appeared to wear out before being bounced out of the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

When asked by ESPN about the key to Tuesday’s victory over Iowa—one that gave IU the outright Big Ten regular season championship—Crean had a quick answer.

“The key is we’ve got guys that have played in tough situations,” Crean told ESPN.

And he wasn’t just talking about his starters.

“Everybody stepped up,” Crean added. “Everybody who went into the game impacted the game in a big way.”

“I learned something from Tony La Russa a long time ago,” Crean continued. “He said he tried to get his back-ups, his subs, a game a week, whether an inning here on Monday or an inning on Tuesday. You know what? The same thing applies to basketball. You know when you get guys minutes, quality minutes in the duration of the season, when they get in pressure situations, it doesn’t feel like pressure. And that’s what it was for us tonight.”

Crean sounds a lot like a guy thinking beyond hanging a Big Ten championship banner this year.

But he’s certainly not looking past Sunday’s home finale against Maryland.

“We’ve got one more regular season game,” Crean told his team in the locker room following the Iowa game. “There is absolutely no way, no way, no way, no way we’re not walking out of that place Sunday with our seniors’ heads held extremely high.”

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