BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana Hoosiers spent some time listening Wednesday night.
Coach Tom Crean told his team the last time Indiana completed a perfect nonconference season, he was a graduate assistant on Jud Heathcote's staff at Michigan State. San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh provided the pregame and halftime pep talks.
And the Hoosiers responded with a staunch effort against overmatched North Carolina Central.
Cody Zeller had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Victor Oladipo scored 16 points, leading Indiana (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) to a 75-56 rout and its first undefeated season in non-league play in more than two decades.
"I had all the coaches go around the room and talk about where they were in 1989-90, so they dated themselves a little," Crean said, drawing laughter. "But it's the first undefeated nonconference season here since 1989-90 and that's a big, big deal."
It's another milestone in the Hoosiers' remarkably resurgent season.
In December, they became the first Big Ten school in six decades to beat the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams in one season. A week ago, the Hoosiers (21-7) gave Crean his first 20-win season since coming to Bloomington in 2008, and now they have a 13-0 record outside Big Ten play.
Crean couldn't have crafted a better script for this milestone.
Harbaugh, his brother-in-law, decided to visit after arriving for this week's annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Harbaugh sat on the bench throughout the game and even trotted onto the court with stools during timeouts.
"I've never sat on the bench before," he joked afterward.
But Crean was more worried about the anomaly Big Ten schedule-makers dealt Indiana with two byes in less than two weeks.
The concern was that the Hoosiers might get stale with that many off days.
So Indiana asked the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school to move the game from Dec. 7 to Feb. 22.
"Having a whole week off would have been a long break for us, so just getting out there and playing was nice," Zeller said. "We can learn from games like this, even games like this compared to Big Ten games. So we'll watch the film and try to get better every day."
All it really did, though, was prolong the inevitable for a school in its first season as a full-fledged Division I member.
The Hoosiers were too big, too strong, too deep and too athletic for the Eagles (14-13).
Indiana shot 51 percent from the field, had a 35-16 rebounding advantage and never gave the Eagles a chance to challenge after building a double-digit lead midway through the first half. Indiana has won four times in five games and is 15-1 at home.
"We game-planned for this like we do for anybody else. You're coaching to win the game," Crean said. "Practice is a time to improve, but you want to improve in the game and you've got to bring substantial qualities into the game to do that."
North Carolina Central was led by NBA hopeful Dominique Sutton, who had 21 points. Emanuel Chapman and Jeremy Ingram each had 10 points, not nearly enough to prevent a third straight loss in the series or a seventh straight loss to Big Ten schools since making the move up from Division II.
The loss ended a stretch of five wins in six games, and the Eagles must play their final four regular-season games on the road.
None of it will compare to the buzzsaw they faced Wednesday.
"I thought we played decent defense, but once they missed, they were able to get some putbacks," coach LeVelle Moton said. "We're just not big enough."
The disparity was evident all night.
North Carolina Central went more than 9 minutes in the first half without getting a rebound and had only four during the final 15:09 of the half. Even worse, the Eagles were never really in contention.
Moton called time out after Indiana scored the first six points. The move was only a speed bump for the Hoosiers, who used a 13-3 run to make it 21-7 midway through the first half, then extended the margin to as much as 24-9. After North Carolina Central closed to 28-18, the Hoosiers built a 39-26 halftime lead and put it away with a 10-2 run early in the second half.
"It builds our confidence a little bit because it's an undefeated (non-conference) season," Oladipo said. "But we've got to turn right back around and play another and a road game at that."
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|South Carolina State||12-4||1||19-15|
|North Carolina Central||7-9||6||13-19|
|North Carolina A&T||7-9||6||10-22|