Posted: 5:30 a.m. Monday, March 11, 2013
By Austan Kas
Not much has come easy for Indiana in the Tom Crean era.
So why wouldn't the Hoosiers have to go to Ann Arbor and beat No. 7 Michigan -- something no team has done this season -- to win the outright Big Ten Championship, their first since 1993?
Why wouldn't Indiana get behind by 11 points in the first half, its largest deficit of the season? Why wouldn't Michigan hit seven second-half 3-pointers and not commit a single turnover in the final 20 minutes? Why wouldn't Indiana find itself trailing by five with 52 seconds remaining?
Aaaaaaand why wouldn't these Hoosiers -- who have taken Indiana fans for one heck of a ride the past two seasons -- win the freakin' game anyway?
Cody Zeller scored the game's final six points, including a go-ahead layup with 13 ticks to go, as second-ranked Indiana stormed from behind to top the Wolverines in exhilarating fashion, 72-71, Sunday afternoon, keeping the Big Ten title all to themselves.
"Nothing was ever given to Indiana since we've been here," Crean said. "We don't play well when it's been given. We play well when we have to earn it."
With Indiana down 71-66 with 52 seconds left, Zeller dropped in a layup off an offensive rebound -- an area where the Hoosiers absolutely dominated the Wolverines. After Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the front end of a one-and-one on the ensuing possession, Zeller hit a pair of free throws at the 29-second mark to make it a one-point game.
Forced to foul, Indiana sent Michigan star Trey Burke to the line. Like Hardaway, Burke misfired on the first of a one-and-one.
Kevin Ferrell raced down the court for Indiana, drove to the right and dished to Zeller, who banked in the go-ahead layup with 13 ticks to play.
"There was a strong belief (in a comeback)," Crean said, "but obviously they had to miss some shots with the free throws to make that happen, and they did."
Burke tried to win it for Michigan, but his runner was off the mark. The rebound came right to Jordan Morgan. He went for the tip in. The ball danced around the rim, and, with a lot -- the Big Ten title and NCAA Tourney seeding -- riding on which direction it fell, the ball rolled off to the side.
The rebound got deflected to the corner, and Christian Watford chased it down before it went out of bounds, saving it to Zeller, who held on to it as the final ticks expired.
"I'm kind of speechless," said Victor Oladipo, who broke down in tears in Crean's arms during the postgame celebration, making for a priceless moment. "It's been a crazy ride. We've had a lot of ups and downs, but this team always comes together. I'm so proud of my teammates."
Rebounding has hurt Indiana in a couple losses this season, but it was the reason the Hoosiers won this one. Indiana out-rebounded Michigan by 23, and the Hoosiers snagged a staggering 24 offensive rebounds. Indiana did to Michigan what Minnesota did to the Hoosiers.
"We gave up 24 offensive rebounds," Hardaway said. "That's a disgrace."
Zeller and Oladipo led the way for Indiana, as they have all season. Zeller, after a slow start, powered his way to 25 points and 10 rebounds, handling Michigan's physical post defense. Oladipo netted 14 points and snared a career-best 13 rebounds.
Jordan Hulls nailed a trio of 3-pointers for nine points. Will Sheehey scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including a pair of key 3-pointers. Jeremy Hollowell finished with five points and five boards, while Watford was held to just three points (did have six rebounds).
The win is Indiana's seventh against a ranked foe, and the Hoosiers are 5-0 against Top 10 teams, with three of those wins coming on the road.
Burke scored 20 points for Michigan, giving him at least 15 points in all 18 of the Wolverines' Big Ten games (incredible!). Glenn Robinson III added 13 points, Nik Stauskas had 12 -- 10 of which came in the first half -- and Hardaway scored 11.
With the window closed on the regular season, Indian heads to Chicago for the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Hoosiers will play Friday morning against either Minnesota or Illinois, both of whom have beaten Indiana this season.
But that game can wait.
- If you told me before the season Indiana was going to lose home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State coupled with road losses to Minnesota and Illinois, I would have said: "Then Indiana is losing at least six Big Ten games." I never would have guessed Indiana would win at Michigan, at Ohio State and at Michigan State. Honestly, I would've been jacked if Indiana won just one of those games. To win all three.... that's pretty darn impressive.
- Watford was a no-show for much of this game, but don't sleep on his late rebound. If Watford doesn't chase down the ball after Morgan's missed tip, it's going to be Michigan's ball with a couple seconds to play. But he corralled it, tossed it to Zeller and that was all she wrote.
- Oladipo and Zeller did their thing, but Sheehey and Hollowell gave Indiana a nice lift off the bench. Sheehey keyed a mid-second-half surge that completed Indiana's comeback from its early hole. Say what you want about Hollowell, but the guy can rebound. He had five in 12 minutes of playing time -- or one less than Watford, who played 17 more minutes.
- It's easy to be critical of referees, but I thought they really got one right late in this contest. With the score 70-66, Watford fouled Robinson on a breakaway, preventing what would have basically been a game-clinching dunk. It would have been verrrry easy for an official to get caught up in the moment and call a flagrant. We've all seen it called before in that situation. A flagrant would've ended any hopes for an Indiana comeback. Watford was whistled for a pretty lousy flagrant in that same state earlier this season. I'm willing to call it even.
- Physical play has been Zeller's Achilles' heel for most of his career. Not today. Well, at least not after the first 10 minutes. Zeller didn't exactly display Olajuwon-like post moves, but he got the ball in the bucket. Down the stretch, with a title on the line, Indiana went to Zeller, and he delivered.
- I feel bad for whoever has to vote on Big Ten Player of the Year. Either Zeller, Oladipo or Burke is going to finish third. Good luck with that one.
- How good is the Big Ten this year? Michigan is the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
- Lastly, this win may have locked up the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region for Indiana. The Hoosiers can do themselves a favor, though, and remove any doubt by winning their opening Big Ten Tournament game. If Indiana loses Friday, I still think it lands a No. 1 seed, but it may get sent elsewhere if Michigan State wins the Big Ten Tournament.
- One more thing: Two years after winning three conference games, Indiana is the Big Ten champions!!!!