BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Tom Crean watched his young Hoosiers grow up Tuesday night. Stunned fans were overjoyed with the results.
The turnovers and fouls were down. The defense improved and the Hoosiers did more than just play for pride — they protected their home court against a team that hadn’t lost all season.
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell scored 25 points, including two free throws with 18.1 seconds left, and freshman Stanford Robinson added a career-best 13 before grabbing the final rebound on a missed 3-pointer to preserve Indiana’s 75-72 upset over No. 3 Wisconsin — a win that sent students streaming onto the court.
"The program has had a lot of big wins. To the team, it means a great deal," Crean said. "To me, the team needs this. I mean we had a long week from Michigan State to Penn State but we’ve gotten a lot better, and we got a lot better the last couple of days. It’s amazing what happens when some real confidence starts to come."
The postgame celebration exemplified how critical the win was to a team that has been mostly inconsistent.
Until Saturday’s win at Penn State, the Hoosiers had beaten only one power conference foe — Washington — way back in November. Now they have two straight wins over Big Ten foes, taking down a team that had given it nothing but fits for seven years.
Wisconsin (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten) entered the night as one of the nation’s last four unbeaten teams and was trying to become the first team to ever win 13 straight over Indiana.
The tale of the tape appeared to be stacked against the Hoosiers, too.
Somehow, though, Indiana (12-5, 2-2) responded with its best performance of the season.
It committed only nine turnovers, limited Wisconsin to four free throws and somehow managed to dig itself out from a 10-point second-half deficit with a remarkable 12-0 run that gave the Hoosiers the lead for good.
"We’ve come very far, had a lot of early losses, but I felt like we learned from watching film," said Ferrell, a sophomore who has emerged as Indiana’s top scorer. "We’ve been working hard in practice, but we’re not going to be content with it."
While Ferrell and Robinson led the way, only two other players — senior Will Sheehey and freshman Noah Vonleh reached double figures. Sheehey had 13 points, Vonleh 11. They lost the rebounding battle 33-28 and allowed the Badgers to shoot 53.3 percent from the field. They also struggled to defend Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson, who had 16 of his career-high 21 in the second half.
But it was the more experienced Badgers who got out of sorts late.
Jackson missed a 3 from the top of the key with 12 seconds to go. Josh Gasser grabbed the rebound and flipped the ball out to Ben Brust in the corner, who rushed his shot with 5 seconds left and came up short.
"When the clock’s ticking in your head like that, he felt like there were two seconds to go or three," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "Also he felt that he needed to get the shot up in case the first touch from 3-point range is the call. There was actually just under four seconds left when the ball came down."
All five Badgers starters scored in double figures — Brust had 13, Gasser and Frank Kaminsky both had 11 and Sam Dekker finished with 10.
But over the final 13 minutes, the Badgers had trouble scoring. The shooting woes gave Indiana the opening it so desperately needed, and after Crean called a timeout everything changed.
Evan Gordon started the rally with a 17-foot jumper. Sheehey and Robinson followed that with consecutive layups. Vonleh finished the 12-0 run with a jumper in the paint to give Indiana a 54-52 lead with 8:58 left, and the Hoosiers never trailed again.
But Wisconsin tied the score at 61 and closed to 73-72 on Kaminsky’s putback with 28.5 seconds left.
Ferrell then made two free throws, the Badgers missed the two 3s — and the crowd went wild over the Hoosiers their biggest win of the season.
"We’re not going to sit and watch this tape and have a pizza party and get some ice cream and say `Wow, we couldn’t have played any better,’" said Crean, who beat Ryan for the first time since he was hired by Indiana. "We’re not. I think we’ve got a lot of potential, but you coach this game expecting to win."