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This Is INDIANA: Tom Crean, the Team, and the Exciting Comeback of Hoosier Basketball

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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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Indiana AT Evansville, 11-16-11 (94-73)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) tries to lay the ball in as Evansville Aces guard/forward Kenneth Harris (32) defends during the Indiana Evansville basketball game at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011.

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?

 

Indiana VS. Butler, 11-27-11 (75-59)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Christian Watford (2) is fouled by Butler Bulldogs forward Khyle Marshall (23) as he attempts to dunk the ball during the Indiana Butler men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011.

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.

 

Indiana AT N.C. State, 11-30-11 (86-75)

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Indiana Hoosiers guard Victor Oladipo (4) gets his fourth foul attempting to block the shot of North Carolina State Wolfpack forward Richard Howell (1) as Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) helps defend during the Indiana North Carolina State men’s basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. Indiana won 86-75.

By Dustin Dopirak

For 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.

 

Indiana VS. Kentucky, 12-10-11 (73-72)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Christian Watford (2) hits the game winning last second shot over Kentucky Wildcats guard Darius Miller (1) during the Indiana Kentucky men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. Indiana won 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.

 

Indiana VS. Notre Dame, 12-17-11 (69-58)

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Indiana Hoosiers guard Victor Oladipo (4) drives the ball on Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Jerian Grant (22) during the Indiana Notre Dame men’s basketball game at Conseco Fieldhouse in game two of the Close the Gap Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011.

By Dustin Dopirak

Tom Crean doesn’t know what Derek Elston was thinking, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else could come up with a logical explanation either.

With the Hoosiers in a mad dash to get the ball down the floor for one more shot at the end of the first half of Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, Elston pulled up from about half-court for a desperation heave. That would’ve been fine if there weren’t 4.5 seconds still left on the clock.

But on a play that was strangely indicative of Indiana’s entire day, freshman guard Remy Abell bolted under the bucket and put back Elston’s wild miss at the buzzer to give Indiana a 26-20 lead at the half.

“Maybe he saw what Christian (Watford) saw last week with 0.8,” Crean said, referring to Watford’s buzzer-beater that knocked off No. 1 Kentucky. “I don’t know. It looked more to me like it said 4.5 or somewhere in there, and he didn’t see that. But the presence of mind of Remy was just fantastic.”

 

Indiana VS. Ohio State, 12-31-11 (74-70)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) shoots over Ohio State Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger (0) during the Indiana Ohio State men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. Indiana won 74-70.

By Dustin Dopirak

This time there were no students — or at least not enough of a consolidated group of them among the sold-out New Year’s Eve Assembly Hall crowd — to storm the floor, so Indiana coach Tom Crean had most of it to himself.

He rushed to one side of the floor and gestured to the roaring crowd in the East stands by raising his arms up from under him like he was bowling with both hands. He then turned to the West stands and did the same.

The crowd had given him exactly what he’d asked for — an atmosphere that nearly matched the one that was in Assembly Hall on Dec. 10 when the Hoosiers upset then-No. 1 Kentucky, despite the fact that Saturday’s game came during the semester break. His team paid them back with a performance that was on that level and perhaps even more important to the journey for this revived Indiana program.

 

Indiana VS. Michigan, 1-5-12 (73-71)

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Michigan Wolverines guard Trey Burke (3) shoots over Indiana Hoosiers forward Tom Pritchard (25) during the Indiana Michigan men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

The reason Indiana coach Tom Crean says he doesn’t want his team to ever feel like it can take a breath and exhale is games like this one.

No. 12 Indiana led No. 16 Michigan by as many as 15 points in the first half of Thursday night’s game and by double digits at points throughout the second half. But the Hoosiers learned that even at home they are not invincible against forces like 3-pointers. They never trailed, but they never got to exhale until Michigan senior swingman Zack Novak’s desperation heave bounced off the right side of the backboard.

Still, the Hoosiers claimed their third victory over a ranked opponent in their revival season, downing the Wolverines 73-71 in front of 16,020 at Assembly Hall on Thursday night thanks to dominant performances by forwards Christian Watford and Cody Zeller and an icy, last-minute, late-in-the-shot-clock jumper by senior guard Verdell Jones III.

 

Indiana AT Nebraska, 1-18-12 (69-70)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) pump fakes Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Bo Spencer (23) and Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Brandon Richardson (3) during the Indiana Nebraska men’s basketball game at the Bob Devaney Arena in Lincoln, Neb.

By Dustin Dopirak

When Jordan Hulls’ desperation heave off his own miss clanked off the backboard and the rim, the Indiana Hoosiers found out what it was like to have the court stormed on them.

Unlike the Kentucky players who found themselves toppled during the mayhem at Assembly Hall on Dec. 10, the Hoosiers had plenty of room Wednesday night to trudge off the Devaney Center floor unmolested with heads hanging and despondent facial expressions after the 70-69 loss. Nebraska’s court-storming barely filled the large block “N” at center court, let alone the entire floor like Hoosier fans did on a night that suddenly seems like a distant memory.

Despite building a 13-point second-half lead, the No. 11 Hoosiers never put away Nebraska, and the underdog Cornhuskers made sure they suffered the consequences of that failure. The normally automatic Hulls missed a critical front end of a set of 1-and-1 free throws with 19 seconds to go. Nebraska center Jorge Brian Diaz made two foul shots to give the Huskers a one-point lead with 11 seconds left, and Hulls missed on a layup and a 3-pointer on the game’s final possession to give Big Ten newcomer Nebraska the win in front of 8,613.

 

Indiana VS. Iowa, 1-29-12 (103-89)

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Indiana Hoosiers guard/forward Will Sheehey (10) passes as Iowa Hawkeyes guard Matt Gatens (5) defends during the Indiana Iowa men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

To an Indiana team that likes its tempo as fast as anyone in the Big Ten, Thursday’s game at Wisconsin had to feel like spending a day in a straitjacket.

Playing against Iowa Sunday was pretty much the exact opposite. Just like the No. 16 Hoosiers, the Hawkeyes like their track meets, and Iowa played into the hands of an Indiana team that was thrilled with the opportunity to revel in freedom of motion. Indiana didn’t play great defense — especially in the second half, when they allowed the Hawkeyes to shoot 79.2 percent from the field — but it didn’t much matter. The Hoosiers outran Iowa 103-89 in front of 17,243 at Assembly Hall, scoring more points in the first half (54) than they did all game in Thursday’s 57-50 loss to the Badgers.

 

Indiana AT Purdue, 2-4-12 (78-61)

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Purdue Boilermakers forward Robbie Hummel (4) deflects the shot of Indiana Hoosiers guard Victor Oladipo (4) during the Indiana Purdue men’s basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

Robbie Hummel didn’t even put his hand up for a close out on Remy Abell until the freshman had already let go of the shot.

The heady Purdue senior forward had read enough of the book on the Indiana guard to know that his first instinct when catching the ball beyond the 3-point arc would be to attack the basket off the dribble.

“The scouting report on him is, probably, let him shoot in that situation because he hasn’t been in there,” Hummel said. “I was kind of playing for the drive.”

Instead of flying out with his hands up on the defensive rotation, Hummel sprinted to a spot a few feet from the arc and broke down his feet to be ready for the drive. But Abell pulled up and drilled a shot that stunned the veteran and took the air out of what had been an ear-piercing Mackey Arena in a 78-61 win.

 

Indiana AT Minnesota, 2-26-12 (69-50)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Will Sheehey (10) rips down the rebound as Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Austin Hollins (20) defends during the Indiana Minnesota basketball game at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. Indiana won 69-50.

By Dustin Dopirak

Tom Crean had prepared himself for exactly this sort of occasion.

The Indiana coach has long been one to let his team play through tough stretches instead of calling a timeout. That’s burned him on several occasions this year in Big Ten road games—most notably during the loss at Nebraska—when teams were able to extend runs with the home crowd behind them, and he vowed not to let that happen again.

But when Minnesota opened Sunday’s game with back-to-back 3-pointers, Crean went with his gut and his base philosophy and let his team play.

“One of my notes to myself in big letters is, ‘Do not let them get on a run, go timeout early,’” Crean said. “But I didn’t want to do that to my team at 6-0, because they were so ready to play. There was no doubt about it.”

 

Indiana VS. Michigan State, 2-28-12 (70-55)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Christian Watford (2) grabs the rebound during the Indiana Michigan State men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. Indiana won 70-55.

By Dustin Dopirak

Apparently, the power of Assembly Hall hasn’t dissipated at all since the magical days of December for Indiana. When it’s packed and deafening, the old arena on 17th Street still has an ability to lift this resurgent Hoosier squad to otherworldly levels when there’s a top-ranked opponent in the building. It’s held true even after the Hoosiers slugged their way through the highs and lows of a rigorous Big Ten schedule.

Because three top 5 teams have now come into Assembly Hall this season, and all three have suffered defeats.

Tuesday’s was the most resounding.

The No. 18 Hoosiers attacked from the opening moments and drilled a No. 5 Michigan State team that had won seven straight to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title. The 70-55 victory came in front of a packed house of 17,280 at striped-out Assembly Hall, and when it was over, IU coach Tom Crean took to the microphone to tell those fans that they’d just witnessed history.

 

Indiana VS. Purdue, 3-4-12 (85-74)

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Indiana Hoosiers guard Verdell Jones III (12) drives the baseline against Purdue Boilermakers guard Ryne Smith (24) during the Indiana Purdue men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday, March 4, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

The last game in Assembly Hall in Indiana’s enchanted season of renewal couldn’t have ended any other way, could it? It certainly would’ve spoiled the narrative some if the Hoosiers would’ve suffered their second loss in Bloomington this year and for it to happen against their in-state rival. And it certainly wouldn’t have been quite as sweet for Indiana if the Hoosiers weren’t able to send in together in the game’s final minute their five seniors, the ones who willingly signed up to rebuild a kingdom in ruin and finally got to see it rise again in their final season.

But the Hoosiers’ 85-74 win over Purdue in front of 17,472 at Assembly Hall made sure this chapter of the story book ended the way the fairy tale writers would have it. Despite a second-half charge from the Boilermakers that was just enough to make the Hoosiers nervous, the double-digit lead in the final minute allowed Indiana to check in seniors Kory Barnett, Verdell Jones III, Daniel Moore, Tom Pritchard and Matt Roth with 22 seconds to go, as they exchanged hugs with each other and all five players who were coming off the floor to allow them their Assembly Hall swan song.

 

Big Ten Tournament: Indiana VS. Penn State, 3-8-12 (75-58)

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Indiana Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls (1) lays the ball in during the Indiana Penn State men’s basketball game at the Big Ten Tournament at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., Thursday, March 8, 2012. Indiana won 75-58.

By Dustin Dopirak

Even though it was expected, this was a win Indiana should’ve been able to bask in. The fifth-seeded Hoosiers’ 75-58 victory over No. 12 seed Penn State in front of 17,936 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament represented yet another milestone for this resurgent squad.

It was Indiana’s first Big Ten Tournament victory since 2006, a slump that not only included the first three seasons of the Tom Crean era but also both of Kelvin Sampson’s years at the helm.

But the tears Crean was fighting back in postgame interviews were not tears of joy. Indiana couldn’t enjoy the victory quite as much, because someone who had seen all the tough times was missing from the bench at game’s end.

 

Big Ten Tournament: Indiana VS. Wisconsin, 3-9-12 (71-79)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) manages to keep control of the ball and hit the bucket as Wisconsin Badgers forward Mike Bruesewitz (31) defends during the Indiana Wisconsin men’s basketball game at the Big Ten Tournament at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., Friday, March 9, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

Of course the dagger came from Rob Wilson. How else could this one have possibly ended? On just about every previous occasion in the second half when Indiana threatened to finally erase Wisconsin’s lead, the previously anonymous Wisconsin senior guard stepped up with a huge shot to knock the Hoosiers’ back. It was only fitting that he would hit the shot to bury them.

And that was exactly what happened with 35 seconds to go when Wilson swished a rainbow 3-pointer to give the Badgers a 72-65 lead, effectively crushing the Hoosiers’ hopes in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. That shot gave Wilson, who came into the game averaging 3.1 points per game, a career high 30 points, and the Badgers hit enough free throws to take a 79-71 victory in front of 18,484 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and advance to today’s 1:40 p.m. semifinal against Michigan State.

 

Ncaa Tournament: Indiana VS. New Mexico State, 3-15-12 (79-66)

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By Dustin Dopirak

Indiana got a chance to soak in the victory before it was even over. With New Mexico State having finally surrendered in the final half-minute, they dribbled out the shot clock with the sound of hundreds of Hoosiers fans chanting “I-U,” celebrating the fact that Indiana would keep dancing for at least two more days.

There were moments of sloppiness for the Hoosiers in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2008, but in the end they did what they had to do to win and win comfortably. Junior point guard Jordan Hulls got hot from beyond the arc for a game-high 22 points, the No. 4 seed Hoosiers kept No. 13 New Mexico State from dominating the paint and beat the Aggies 79-66 in front of 17,519 on Thursday at The Rose Garden to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. They will play No. 12 seed Virginia Commonwealth — which upset No. 5 seed Wichita State 62-59 earlier in the evening — on Saturday at 7:10 p.m.

It was their first tournament victory since March 17, 2007.

 

Ncaa Tournament: Indiana VS. VCU, 3-17-12 (63-61)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Will Sheehey (10) celebrates the Hoosier win during the Indiana Virginia Commonwealth 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball third round game at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 17, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

Will Sheehey grabbed the ball on the left baseline after Victor Oladipo’s shot was blocked and flashed an involuntary smile, because he knew.

It mattered not that the sophomore swingman was in perhaps the biggest pressure situation of his basketball career, or that the shot he was about to take could be the one that either continued Indiana’s magical 2011-12 season with a dramatic late comeback or led to its eventual end. When he gets that look, that wide open, it goes in. Every time.

“Will’s mid-range is almost automatic,” Oladipo said. “When he shot it, I knew it was going in as soon as it left his hands.”

It did, and then on the other end, Virginia Commonwealth guard Rob Brandenberg’s 3-pointer for the win hit off the front of the rim — and after hanging above it for a perceived eternity — fell over the back end to give the No. 4 Hoosiers a breathtaking 63-61 NCAA Tournament victory over the No. 12 seed Rams, a berth in the Sweet 16 and a rematch with No. 1 Kentucky.

 

Ncaa Tournament: Indiana VS. Kentucky, 3-23-12 (90-102)

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Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) wins the tip off during the Indiana Kentucky 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Sweet Sixteen game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., Friday, March 23, 2012.

By Dustin Dopirak

With his head firmly tilted toward the floor, Jordan Hulls shuffled all the way to the final seat on Indiana’s bench and waited to enter the post-game handshake line until there was no postponing it any further.

It was as if he just wasn’t ready for it to end. Really, none of the Hoosiers were.

But on Friday night — really, early Saturday morning — Indiana’s magic season of rebirth came to a close against the team the Hoosiers had beaten in December to announce their return to prominence. No. 4 seeded Indiana kept up with No. 1 Kentucky throughout a maniacally paced and brilliantly played NCAA South Regional semifinal at the Georgia Dome, but the Wildcats’ length, athleticism and ability to draw fouls was too much in the long run, and they advanced to the Elite Eight with a 102-90 victory in front of a crowd of 24,731 that was largely partisan to their side.

 

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