No. 18 Indiana surges late to beat Wildcats 71-66

Northwestern came to Indiana with one goal Wednesday night: Put

another impressive victory on its NCAA tournament resume.

The Hoosiers played the impolite host.

Freshman center Cody Zeller scored 23 points, and senior guard

Verdell Jones scored all six of his points in the final 4:03,

leading No. 18 Indiana past the Wildcats 71-66 – a potentially

destructive blow to Northwestern’s tourney hopes.

”We’ve got to get eight wins, so what do we have five games

left? So we have to beat some,” coach Bill Carmody said. ”How

many are at home? Three. OK, right there. You have to do that so

you’re in the discussion. We’re playing at a decent level, I think,

but somehow we have to get the wins.”

Northwestern (15-10, 5-8 Big Ten) will certainly have its

chances over the next 2 1/2 weeks.

The Wildcats will host Minnesota and No. 17 Michigan in the next

two games. Then Northwestern travels to Penn State, hosts No. 6

Ohio State and closes at Iowa – needing what Carmody believes is

three more wins.

Can they do it? Yes. Will it be easy? No way.

”It’s imperative to defend home court,” leading scorer John

Shurna said after scoring 29 points at Indiana. ”I think if we

want to make something of this season, then we’re going to have to

win at home.”

Northwestern had won six of the previous seven games against the

Hoosiers and nearly ruined their planned celebration.

After three straight losing seasons, Hoosiers fans were just

hoping for a winning record.

But the Hoosiers have given them so much more. They upset No. 1

Kentucky and then No. 2 Ohio State in December, becoming the first

Big Ten team in nearly six decades to beat the nation’s top two

teams in the same season. They’ve gone 15-1 at home, and now, for

the first time in coach Tom Crean’s four seasons, the Hoosiers have

won 20 games, too.

”Tonight was about us somehow finding a way to get our 20th

win,” Crean said. ”We really wanted to do that at home because of

all we’ve been through and all our fans have been through. It’s not

something that you look at and say that automatically gives you

anything. I’m really glad with the way we earned it tonight with

some really good defensive stops.”

The primary reasons for the remarkable turnaround are the

emergence of Zeller and the toughness of the seniors – a

combination that was on full display Wednesday.

At times, Zeller single-handedly kept Indiana in the game.

Jones, who had missed the previous 2 1/2 games with a bruised

right shoulder and didn’t look like himself in the first half,

rallied his teammates with a late surge that proved he difference.

He broke a 63-63 tie with a 15-foot baseline jumper, extended the

lead to 67-63 with a layup and then sealed the victory with a long

jumper from the left wing that was originally ruled a 3 but

overturned on a replay review – but still good enough to seal

Northwestern’s fate.

”I thought the way that he (Jones) played in the second half,

it’s what you want every player to understand that if you’re really

locked in defensively, it’s going to carry over into your

offense,” Crean said. ”He was really in a good groove inside of

the game.”

Jones wasn’t the only Indiana player in sync against the

Wildcats.

Zeller again provided the inside presence, missing only two of

11 shots. He finished with seven rebounds, three assists, one steal

and, at times, carried the Hoosiers’ offense.

Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo each had 12 points and the

Hoosiers overcame a season-low 15.4 percent shooting effort from

3-point range by limiting the Wildcats to 6 of 20 from beyond the

arc.

Drew Crawford had for Northwestern, but the Wildcats’ two-man

tandem didn’t get enough help from their teammates. Northwestern

was outscored 22-1 off the bench, and just couldn’t keep up with

Jones’ late surge.

As usual, Northwestern made it tough.

It erased a 28-21 deficit with an 8-2 run late in the first

half, but after closing to 30-29, the Hoosiers extended the lead to

37-31 at the half.

The Wildcats opened the second half on a 12-2 run to take a

43-39 lead on Shurna’s tip-in with 16:51 to go.

Zeller and Will Sheehey then rallied the Hoosiers, scoring all

of the points in a 10-2 run that gave Indiana a 49-45

advantage.

The back-and-forth went on the rest of the night, until Jones

changed the game with his midrange jumper and the ensuing layup to

make it 67-63 with 2:49 to go and then sealed it with the long

range shot with 29.4 seconds left.

”They made big plays when they had to make big plays,” Carmody

said. ”We took the lead and things were going pretty nicely and

then they made a couple of really good stops and certain guys on

their team – Jones made a nice little baseline jumper off the

bounce and then they hit that big 3.”