No. 5-ranked Indiana boasts arguably the nation’s best big man in Cody Zeller.
Zeller, a member of the preseason Naismith Award watch list, averaged 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game coming into Monday’s contest against Penn State.
However, the 7-foot sophomore center isn’t the only big man with the ability to dominate for the Hoosiers, as forward Christian Watford had himself quite a performance in their 74-51 win over the Nittany Lions.
“We wanted to get him going,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We went to him right off the bat, we felt that he was a big part of our gameplan and he responded... We want him to hunt.”
Watford, a 6-foot-9 forward, had averaged 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in the four games prior to Monday’s showdown.
Indiana’s matchup with the Lions would be no exception for Watford, as the forward put up the same type of production in the first half alone with a surprising 13 points and five rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The forward, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, jumpstarted the Hoosiers’ offense from the get-go, scoring eight of the team’s first 10 points.
“I didn’t really settle. I took what the defense gave me, got to the basket and got some fouls,” Watford said.
Even though Watford averaged 12.6 points per game last year and 16 points the season before, the senior has perhaps been overshadowed in the frontcourt this year by the star power of Zeller.
Despite shooting just 33 percent from the field in the team’s first two games this year, and subsequently being bench the following contest, Watford has come on lately as a formidable presence in the Hoosiers’ frontcourt.
“He’s another great player and he was able to knock down shots,” Lions guard Jermaine Marshall said. “But, at the same time, we have to do a better job rotating to the ball when we’re on defense. A lot of times we left him open, so we have to know our rotations on defense and keep doing them as hard as possible."
Watford, whose lanky but powerful frame gives him versatility on the block and outside, created matchup issues for Penn State, especially for forwards Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis.
Whether he was stepping out to nail a three or taking it to the rim, Watford was a mismatch for whoever guarded him.
“He can shoot threes. He can post up. He can do a little bit of everything,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “He drives the basketball. He had a very good game.”