This is Indiana: Tom Crean, the Team, and the Exciting Comeback of Hoosier Basketball

This is Indiana: Tom Crean, the Team, and the Exciting Comeback of Hoosier Basketball

by The Herald-Times

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On a chilly Saturday in December 2011, Tom Crean led his Hoosier basketball players to an upset win over Kentucky, the #1-ranked basketball team in the nation. From that moment on, the revival of IU basketball was becoming a reality. Back in 2008, facing many challenges, Coach Tom Crean walked into Indiana's Assembly Hall, promising a return to glory for Indiana

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On a chilly Saturday in December 2011, Tom Crean led his Hoosier basketball players to an upset win over Kentucky, the #1-ranked basketball team in the nation. From that moment on, the revival of IU basketball was becoming a reality. Back in 2008, facing many challenges, Coach Tom Crean walked into Indiana's Assembly Hall, promising a return to glory for Indiana basketball. Four years later, led by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cody Zeller and the brilliant lineup of Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Will Sheehey, Verdell Jones III, and Victor Oladipo, the Hoosiers went 24-7. Making it to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen, the team once again faced the Wildcats in what would prove to be a thrilling season finale. A keepsake for Hoosiers and basketball lovers everywhere, This Is INDIANA will let you relive this incredible season—game by game, photo by photo.

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This Is Indiana

By Bob Zaltsberg

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 The Herald-Times and Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00858-9


"New" Hoosiers Come Up Aces

IU routs Evansville for 1st road victory in more than a season

By Dustin Dopirak

After Indiana's surgical evisceration of Evansville on Wednesday night, the question posed to Tom Crean and his players sounded like a reasonable one.

In Crean's four years, the Hoosiers had won games by bigger margins and earned victories of much more gravity against much stronger teams. But those more important victories were mostly nailbiters, and none of those blowouts came against a team as respectable as this Evansville squad, which was coming off a 16-16 season in the revered Missouri Valley Conference and a season opening win over Butler.

So was IU's 94-73 win at Evansville in front of 9,640 at the brand new Ford Center the Hoosiers' best all-around performance in Crean's three-plus years of rebuilding?

Senior guard Verdell Jones III, who has been with Crean for all 30 of his previous wins at IU and all 66 of his losses, says yes.

"I think so" Jones said. "On the defensive end and on the offensive end, the first half was really good"

Crean refused to take the bait.

"This is a new team" Crean said. "This is a new team. It's a new year"

After Wednesday's performance, he will receive very little argument with that.

Winning on the road provided significant proof of that. Before Wednesday, the Hoosiers (3-0) had won just one true road game in Crean's tenure, and it was at Penn State on Jan. 21, 2010. At no point in Crean's previous three years have the Hoosiers displayed this much firepower, nor have they been able to put this many dangerous scorers on the floor at once. They certainly haven't had a post presence like Cody Zeller.

Evansville couldn't handle any of that Wednesday night. Indiana had five scorers in double figures and junior forward Derek Elston was one point away from making it six. The Hoosiers made 10 of their first 12 field goal attempts and 18 of their first 26. They shot 55.9 percent (33-of-59) from the field as a team, and made 51.9 percent of their buckets in the second half even though the starters watched most of it from the bench.

"It was great" Jones said. "You couldn't key on one guy. I think it all started with getting the ball to the big fella right here in Cody. He was just making plays. They were double-teaming and he was kicking it and we were driving and kicking it. It was good thing to have Cody command a double team like that"

After admittedly having trouble playing through the post in preseason practice, the Hoosiers seem to be developing more of an appreciation for Zeller's ability to move the ball, and it showed Wednesday. Zeller with finished with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and nine rebounds, and as Jones said, his presence opened up driving space in the lane and room on the perimeter.

Jones led all scorers with 17 points, knocking down a career-high four 3-pointers, and also had seven assists. Junior guard Jordan Hulls had 14 points, while sophomore swingman Will Sheehey added 10. Sophomore guard Victor Oladipo had eight points and four assists, mostly on drive-and-kicks to Jones in the corners. Junior swingman Christian Watford, meanwhile, had his best performance of the season after slinking to a combined nine points on 3-of-14 shooting in the season's first two games. Watford battled an Achilles tendon injury for most of the preseason, but he seemed much healthier on Wednesday, hitting 5-of-7 shots for 15 points to go with eight rebounds.

"I got it going tonight" Watford said. "My teammates have been helping me do a great job keeping my head up and stuff like that even when times have been tough. I've been struggling."

The Hoosiers' offense also fed off the defense. Evansville shot 51.9 percent in a garbage time to finish at 42.9 percent for the game, but IU held the Aces (1-1) to just 34.5 percent in the first half.

They also did a number on Evansville star guard Colt Ryan. With Oladipo draped on Ryan and consistent help defense behind him, Ryan shot 1-for-6 in the first half and scored just four points. He finished with 17 on 4-of-10 shooting, but by the time he found a rhythm, Evansville had no chance of a comeback.

"There's no doubt that our guys were locked in" Crean said. "I thought our defensive intensity and intelligence combined were really, really good. Really good. When you go on the road, everything's gotta turn up a notch."

It was obvious from the beginning that it did, as IU took an 11-3 lead out of the break and never again let Evansville get closer than six points.

Evansville cut a 13-point Indiana lead to 31-23 with 8:01 to go in the first half, but IU finished the half on a 20-6 run to take a 51-27 advantage into the break. They toyed with the Aces in the second half, but still got to comfortably enjoy victory on someone else's floor for the first time in almost 22 months.


IU Will-ed to Victory

Sheeheys career-high 21 points lead Hoosiers to 75-59 win over Butler

By Dustin Dopirak

It is standard procedure to describe sixth men as catalysts, to speak of them providing sparks or injections of energy and scoring.

But as much as Indiana sophomore swingman and first man off the bench Will Sheehey sparked the Hoosiers on Sunday night, he also steadied them during what was unquestionably the most turbulent stretch of basketball the Hoosiers have played this year. In large part because of Sheehey, the Hoosiers never trailed during a slump of 10 minutes and 21 seconds without a field goal. He finished with a career-high 21 points, helping Indiana hold off a gritty Butler squad and run away with a 75-59 win in front of 17,265 at Assembly Hall on Sunday night.

The game served as the de facto championship game of the Hoosier Invitational, a round-robin event that included IU, Butler, Chattanooga, Savannah State and Gardner-Webb but did not have a tournament setup. Indiana (6-0) claimed a trophy for the victory, however, and Sheehey was named tournament MVP. "Will really did a great job of reading the game," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "... He's got some real innate ability to read situations."

And the situation, as Sheehey read it, was that Sunday night's game was brutally physical and slightly manic. Both teams were stingy on defense and trying to play fast, which led to lots of turnovers and fouls. He saw them as opportunities.

"They're very aggressive on ball screens, as you saw" Sheehey said. "Every time someone came off the screen, they showed the big really long. On the weak side of the floor, there was a lot of open things.... And also, in transition, they brought a lot of guys to the board as you can see, they had I don't know how many offensive rebounds. When they go to the boards, there's a lot of leak outs and dunks and what not."

Sheehey mostly took advantage during the period when Indiana most needed any sort of offense. From the 8:28 mark of the first half to the 11:43 mark of the second half, the Hoosiers, who were shooting 57.1 percent from the field coming into the game, managed just six field goals. Sheehey had three of those and assisted on a fourth. He also went to the line three times in that period and knocked down 5 of 6 free throws.

Sheehey finished 5-for-8 from the field and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line. He hit a career-high three 3-pointers on four attempts. He had hit just 2 of 7 in the Hoosiers' first five games and 7 of 23 all last season.

Just as important as that was what he did on defense. Hopkins was 6-for-11 in the first half for 13 points, with sophomore guard Victor Oladipo and Sheehey alternating on the assignment. Sheehey wanted it in the second half, though, and with the help of IU's big men switching screens, he held Hopkins to just one field goal in the final 20 minutes. Hopkins didn't even attempt a field goal in the last 18:54 and finished with 19 points.

"Will wanted the matchup," Crean said. "That's something we're very comfortable with, but he went in there and did something with it."

Sheehey's performance on Hopkins was just part of a strong overall defensive effort by the Hoosiers, who held Butler (3-3) to 38.2 percent shooting, including just 5-for-18 (27.8 percent) from the 3-point line. Sophomore forward Khyle Marshall added 16 points, but no one else for Butler had more than six. The Hoosiers caused 21 turnovers and scored 23 points off of them.

"I'm blown away by our defensive effort," Crean said. "We kept bringing it defensively. We kept getting to the 50-50s. As I told the team, I think you got better in the game, but I know you got tougher. And that's a big, big deal"

After shooting just 32 percent (8-for-25) in the first half, Indiana shot 50 percent (11-for-22) in the second half.

Sheehey was one of four Hoosiers to score in double figures. Freshman forward Cody Zeller had his worst shooting game (4-for-9) and struggled to get room while being defended by Butler's Andrew Smith but still finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Junior guard Jordan Hulls had 14 points and three assists, and Oladipo managed 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Hoosiers led by just three points (40-37) with 12:15 to go, but went on a quick 11-2 run to take a 51-39 advantage at the 9:29 mark. Butler would cut the deficit to 51-43, but Indiana answered with a 20-8 spurt to take a 20-point lead with 2:08 remaining, turning a turbulent game into a convincing win.


IU posts 'monumental' win

Hoosiers put away N.C. State for first Challenge victory under Crean, 86-75

By Dustin Dopirak

or a brief moment once the buzzer sounded, Christian Watford allowed himself to celebrate like it was March.

He corralled a pass around midcourt, took a couple high and hard dribbles and then flung the ball high toward the overhead scoreboard as he bounded toward the Indiana bench and did a few flying leaps into his teammates.

After that, the Hoosiers toned down the exuberance for the handshake line with North Carolina State, reminding themselves that there were still a few hours left in November. But they were still bouncing as they hit the tunnel after beating the Wolfpack 86-75 in front of 16,597 at the RBC Center, though, because they knew exactly how big this win was.

It was the Hoosiers' first win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in coach Tom Crean's tenure, with the last coming against Georgia Tech under Kelvin Sampson in 2007. It was Indiana's second road victory this season, but its first outside the state since it won at Penn State on Jan. 21, 2010. It was also the Hoosiers' first win over a power six conference team this year, and the clearest indication yet that their 7-0 start could be legitimate.

"It's monumental for this program," Crean said. "We've never won in this game, OK, and we hadn't been to an atmosphere like this.... It's a landmark win for us as a program. It's certainly one of the bigger wins in our time without a doubt, because we played a really good team in a great atmosphere, a sold-out atmosphere. We had to figure out different ways to win it"

Which made it even bigger.

It was the first time this season the Hoosiers had to beat a team that was at worst even and arguably superior to them in terms of size and athleticism. It was also the first time they had to overcome a significant second-half deficit to do it, as they trailed by seven points with 7:48 to go.

"We learned that if we stay together, we could accomplish anything" Watford said. "At that point, when we were down seven, we didn't give up. We knew we had it. We were calm and we knew what it needed to be. So we just kept fighting"

They pulled it off because of contributions from across the board. Junior point guard Jordan Hulls gave arguably his most commanding leadership performance as a college player. He led the team with 20 points, dished out five assists and hit three 3-pointers. He hit all five of his free throws, extending his school record streak to 52, and one of his 3-pointers was arguably the shot of the game. He came off a pick and roll and drilled one late in the shot clock to give Indiana a 79-75 advantage with 1:38 to go, and North Carolina State never recovered.

Freshman forward Cody Zeller had 19 points and seven rebounds, with 13 of the points and five of the rebounds coming in a dominant second half. Many of those points came after Zeller's parents left to see his older brother Tyler play at North Carolina. "Tough luck" Zeller deadpanned to laughter in the press room. "Maybe they shouldn't have come at all. We would've won by 20" Watford, meanwhile broke out of a funk that carried over from his 2-for-10 performance against Butler on Sunday through the first half. The junior swingman recorded 11 of his 16 points and seven of his nine rebounds in the second half.

"He hit huge shots for us," Hulls said. "Got to the rim, got to the free throw line. We know what C-Wat's capable of when he puts his mind to it. He did that for us, that's really why he won the game. He got huge rebounds at the end of the game"

So did others, which allowed the Hoosiers to correct their biggest first half deficiency. They were down 22-13 on the boards at halftime, with the long-armed North Carolina State squad grabbing 13 offensive boards and turning them into 16 second-chance points, a big part of the reason the Wolfpack (5-2) led 42-41 at the break.

In the second half, the Hoosiers won the battle of the boards, 2418. Even when the Indiana fell behind 63-56 with 7:48 left, Crean said he wasn't worried because he saw more fight on the glass. "Maybe the calmest I was all night was when we had I think it was three straight shots in the basket on offensive rebounds," Crean said. "It looked like volleyball on the boards, but at least we were in there. Timeout came and I said, 'We're finally here. We're finally playing.' I looked up at the score and we were down seven and it was the biggest deficit we had, but it was like we were finally playing the game the way it needed to be played"

The Hoosiers had squandered a 25-14 start and the Wolfpack were on a 7-0 run at the time, but the Hoosiers turned the game around and never looked back. They outscored North Carolina State 30-12 from that point and 10-0 in the last 1:38 to clinch this squad's biggest win to date.


'It Was a Great Feeling'

Watfords 3-pointer at horn lifts IU over No. 1 UK, 73-72

By Dustin Dopirak

Within seconds of his picture-perfect, buzzer-beating 3-pointer's contact with the net on Assembly Hall's north goal, Christian Watford was prone on the floor and swimming in an ocean of human catharsis.

The Indiana student section didn't so much storm the court after the Hoosiers stunned No. 1 Kentucky, 73-72, as swallow it whole. The mayhem built outward from the spot where Watford fell on the floor near the scorer's table on the west sideline and kept getting bigger until fans covered every single wood panel on Branch McCracken Court at Assembly Hall from end to end.

Fans were singing along with the pep band and lifting each other on their shoulders and trying to find players and coaches to whom to express their gratitude. Watford and several of his teammates escaped from beneath the crush of humanity only to bathe in its glow, standing atop the scorer's table and gesturing to the crowd as if directing some joyful orchestra.

"It was a great feeling," Watford said. "I haven't felt anything like that. That's probably the most memorable moment of my life. It's the biggest shot, definitely, of my career"

And it was the biggest thing, definitely, that's happened to Indiana since the program was decimated following Kelvin Sampson's 2008 recruiting scandal and the subsequent roster purge that left the Hoosiers with just two returning players in coach Tom Crean's first season.

IU fans suffered through seasons of pain and defeat since then, as the Hoosiers didn't even come close to .500 in any of those seasons and went a combined 28-66. They drained the marrow from any and all brief moments of joy in that time. Last season, the student section somewhat reluctantly rushed the court for a win over an Illinois team that was ranked No. 20 at the time — a move that would've been considered unthinkable before 2008 but seemed justifiable at the time.

On Saturday, they packed Assembly Hall with a capacity crowd of 17,472 hoping not just for an upset and a victory over a hated rival, but proof that Indiana was back. They got the most irrefutable evidence they could hope to receive in the month of December.

The Hoosiers defeated the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since beating Duke in the 2002 NCAA Tournament and was the first such win at Assembly Hall since Kirk Haston's buzzer beater took down top-ranked Michigan State in 2001. IU's first win over Kentucky since 2007 gave them a 9-0 start for the first time since the 1989-90 season and puts them in position to return to the Top 25 for the first time 2008.

"This is one of the most shared moments that I've ever been a part of," Crean said afterward, his hair still wet after his team doused him with a Gatorade bucket filled with water in the locker room. "Maybe the most shared moment, where you want to share it with everybody that's been a part of this program long before we got here.... It's one of those moments that everybody's gonna remember"

Watford led all scorers with 20 points in the game, hitting four of six 3-pointers and also holding Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, a preseason All-American, to just four points. IU sophomore guard Victor Oladipo had 13 points. Freshman forward Cody Zeller and junior guard Jordan Hulls had 11 points each, and sophomore swingman Will Sheehey added 10.


Excerpted from This Is Indiana by Bob Zaltsberg. Copyright © 2012 The Herald-Times and Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Herald-Times, a daily newspaper serving Bloomington, Indiana, and surrounding areas, is a three-time winner of the Blue Ribbon award as the best daily newspaper in the state of Indiana.

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