IU Holds Off Iowa, Clinches Big Ten Outright

 

 

Bball-CookHall-Locker-e1345071285879BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – The Big Ten regular-season title belongs to Indiana.

The No. 12 Hoosiers defeated the No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes 81-78 in Iowa City, Iowa, Tuesday to win the conference outright. Iowa senior Peter Jok missed a potential game-tying trey as time expired to cap a frenzied finish that ended with Indiana claiming its 22nd Big Ten championship in program history and the second outright title under head coach Tom Crean.

“Our guys, they’ve responded all year, and that’s the key,” Crean said. “As far as winning the championship with this group, I probably don’t have all the words for that figured out yet. I just know it’s an absolute honor.”

Iowa erased what was a 14-point Indiana lead with 14:34 left in the second half to set up a hectic finish that featured both sides struggling to capture any sort of momentum.

The Hawkeyes took a 75-74 lead with 3:59 remaining before missing nine consecutive shots while Indiana scored six unanswered points. A 3-pointer by Anthony Clemmons with nine seconds left and a steal by Christian Williams on the ensuing possession gave Iowa a pair of looks at forcing overtime, but Clemmons air-balled a contested trey and Jok missed an open look from the corner as the buzzer sounded.

Four Hoosiers finished with double-digit scoring, led by senior guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s 20 points. His 3-pointer with 37 seconds left—Indiana’s final made field goal—proved to be just enough to push the Hoosiers past the Hawkeyes to win the Big Ten.

“It’s special, man,” Ferrell said. “All our hard work paid off.”

Throughout the process of winning the Big Ten, Indiana has remained mum. The Hoosiers (24-6, 14-3) haven’t said much publicly or celebrated their accomplishments and don’t have immediate plans to even after claiming the conference regular-season title. They say they’ve got other aspirations like the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament on their minds.

Though Crean has experience leading a Big Ten championship Indiana team before, his experience in 2013 hardly parallels this season’s.

The former began the year ranked preseason No. 1, rarely fell off and won the conference just as it was predicted to do. It was the culmination of a rebuilding process four years in the making that ultimately ended in the Sweet-16 of the NCAA Tournament.

The latter began as a potential favorite to win the Big Ten but certainly not the undisputed leading contender despite bringing back virtually all of the previous year’s team and adding a freshman class that included a McDonald’s All-American center in Thomas Bryant to work alongside senior transfer Max Bielfeldt.

Indiana started 5-3, including a 1-2 trip in Maui and a blowout loss at Duke that Crean still brings up even minutes after beating Iowa to win the Big Ten. He held firm in saying the problems his team faced were correctable and would be correctable over time.

“I love them as much now as I did in the Duke locker room because I believed in them then,” Crean said. “We had a lot of room to get better…But the ingredients were there.”

That much proved to be true.

Indiana began a steady climb near the end of the non-conference and through the Big Ten even without injured sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr.  The Hoosiers reinvented themselves after losing Blackmon for the season right before conference play began, strengthening up defensively without suffering significant drop-off in scoring thanks to a balanced effort between the proven perimeter and emerging post.

As the Big Ten wore on, IU kept winning and put itself in a position where Tuesday night’s game against Iowa could be the conference-clinching win it proved to be.

And for a few moments, the Hoosiers celebrated.

They dosed Crean with water in the locker room after celebrating together on the court. They posted messages on social media and spoke openly about the emotions surrounding the championship.

“As a player, as a human being, it means a lot to me,” junior forward Troy Williams said. “The way I view it, it’s even bigger for our program.”

Nearly 400 miles away, a watch party at Assembly Hall cheered as the final buzzer went off in Iowa City. Queen’s “We Are The Champions” played over the speakers at Assembly Hall and the crowd on hand chanted Ferrell’s name.

But the celebration, at least the team’s, won’t last long. It was never supposed to.

March is just beginning.

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