Indiana 75, Penn State 58: Verdell Jones III knee injury overshadows first BTT win since 2006.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Christian Watford #2 of the Indiana Hoosiers battles for the ball with Matt Glover #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 8, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The monkey is finally off the Hoosiers' back. A six year losing streak in the Big Ten Tournament is finally over. Unfortunately, a moment that IU fans expected would be fun or a relief is utterly overshadowed by a knee injury suffered by Verdell Jones III about 6 minutes into the game. The official word from IU is a "knee sprain" and that Jones will be evaluated further. Without speculating on matters outside my expertise, let's just agree that it looked really bad. It was a non-contact injury that occurred when Jones came to a stop. He dropped to the floor immediately, screaming in pain. He was on the floor for several minutes. He left the floor without being able to put any weight on his injured leg. Obviously, a "good sign" (such as Edgerrin James walking off the field under his own power in 2001) is not dispositive, but there were no good signs associated with this injury. In his postgame interview on BTN, and apparently on radio interviews according to what I've read elsewhere, Crean was choked up and had difficulty speaking about the Jones injury. In short, every piece of circumstantial evidence points toward a serious, season-ending injury and none of the evidence points in the good direction. Nevertheless, the best evidence, the MRI, isn't available yet, so those who want to cling to hope can cling to hope.

As for the game itself, it was pretty sloppy on offense. IU shot only 36 percent from the field, but as has been increasingly the case, the Hoosiers won the game at the line, shooting 29-36 on free throws. The defense tightened up a bit in the second half on Tim Frazier. Individual performances of note:

  • Jordan Hulls was responsible for IU's early lead, and finished with 20 points, including 4-6 from three point range.
  • Christian Watford was only 2-11 from the field, but finished with 14 thanks to 10-10 from the stripe and also had 10 boards (tied for the team lead with Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller).
  • Cody Zeller was only 4-9 from the field, but much like Watford, ended up with an efficient 19 points thanks to 11-15 from the line.
Well, now it's on to Wisconsin. This season has been about ending bad streaks. IU's streak of losing seasons is over, as is the NCAA Tournament drought. Today's win was the first BTT win since 2006. A win tomorrow would a) give IU its first trip to the BTT semifinals since 2006; and b) end IU's 9-game losing streak to Wisconsin, the Hoosiers' longest streak against any team in 77 years.

Unfortunately, in all likelihood, IU is going to have to do it without Verdell Jones III. This is heartbreaking. Anyone who reads this site regularly knows that over the last few weeks, I have made repeated mention of how great it is that these seniors, all of whom were a part of IU's 6-25/1-17 nightmare of a season in 2008-09, would finish their careers in the NCAA Tournament. Now, barring improbably good news, it seems that Jones's IU career will end a week or two or three earlier than those of his classmates. It just isn't right. It just isn't right. If there is any consolation, it's that the team responded really well, and if anything, played with more focus and intensity after the injury. These guys aren't done, but it's a tough emotional blow for the team and especially for Jones. Let's hope against hope that all of the above is irresponsible speculation.
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