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Indiana escapes the Temple of Doom

Late surge lifts Hoosiers past Owls, into Sweet 16

Already owner of the Wat Shot, Christian Watford can now lay claim to the Wat Swat after this critical block in Sunday's thriller.
Already owner of the Wat Shot, Christian Watford can now lay claim to the Wat Swat after this critical block in Sunday's thriller.

Trailing by four with 2 minutes, 56 second left in just the type of game which has given Indiana fits all year -- a low-scoring, half-court affair -- the Hoosiers, boosted by a plethora of late-game heroics, found a way to win.

With its title hopes circling the drain, top-seeded Indiana scored the game's final 10 points and rallied from behind to edge ninth-seeded Temple, 58-52, Sunday afternoon in Dayton, punching a hard-earned ticket to the Sweet 16.

"In my mind," said Indiana coach Tom Crean, according to, "this is as tough a team as we've faced all year long. ... Our guys, in the second half, they never wavered on the belief they could and would win the game.

"Our guys," he added, "did a great job of continuing to believe, moving the ball, playing through everything that went inside of the game, and the biggest thing for us, is Temple could never get any separation. If they got separation, maybe it's a little bit different, but they couldn't because our guys withstood that. It was just a matter of time -- I think that's the way our guys approached it -- that things would break for (us)."

There appear to be two versions of Indiana this season. The first is the fluid, ball-moving, aggressive squad that plays beautiful basketball and is so fun to watch. That team shows up about 95 percent of the time. The other is an out-of-whack, sluggish, tentative group that's typically reserved for Wisconsin games (and Ohio State at home).

For 37 minutes Sunday, Indiana was the latter team -- stagnant and passive. The good Hoosiers showed up just in time.

The comeback epitomized what's so great about this bunch in the sense that Indiana got a variety of key contributions from a variety of people.

Down 52-48, Jordan Hulls began the rally with an 18-foot, pull-up jumper. Cody Zeller followed with a pair of free throws. Christian Watford came up with a game-saving block -- the Wat Swat -- and a key rebound seconds later. Victor Oladipo, after getting worked by Temple star Khalif Wyatt for most of the contest, elevated his defense down the stretch. Oh, and he hit a pretty big 3-pointer, too.

Oladipo nosed Indiana in front 53-52 with a free throw at the 1:19 mark. After playing some suffocating defense and forcing a stop, Indiana got the ball back with 48 ticks remaining and a chance to run some clock. The Hoosiers did just that, and at the end of the shot clock, Zeller, from the corner, found a wide-open Oladipo at the top of the key.

It was damn near poetic, wasn't it? The nation's most improved player getting to showcase a skill he's worked so hard to refine: his 3-point shooting. Of course he drained it. No hesitation. Nothing but net. Four-point lead. Fifteen seconds left.

"I was just open, and I shot it," said Oladipo. "It really didn't have anything to do with the moment or the confidence to shoot it. I just caught it and shot it."

Wyatt misfired on a desperation 3-point try on the Owls' next possession, and Watford, after snagging the rebound, added two insurance points at the charity stripe.

Sweet 16, here we come.

Oladipo -- who is heading to his home region of Washington D.C. for the Sweet 16 -- led the Hoosiers (29-6) with 16 points and eight rebounds.

"I'm just glad that we're going," Oladipo said of getting to play back home. "We want to be successful there. So it's going to be fun playing in front of family and friends and all that, but it's a business trip. We're on a mission."

Zeller added 15 points and six rebounds, but he was just 4 of 10 from the floor and turned the ball over six times. In his time at Indiana, never has there been a performance that magnified the holes in Zeller's game like this one.

He had no arsenal of post moves to go to, instead repeatedly resorting to shooting the ball straight into defenders' arms. He was out of control, at times, and was played one-on-one for much of the game. Zeller kept playing hard, to his credit, and Indiana kept feeding him the ball. In the second half, Zeller got the benefit of some calls and was able to convert from the foul line.

"I thought for sure I was going to set a turnover record with all the mistakes I was making," Zeller said. "My teammates had a lot of confidence in me and kept on throwing it to me. Luckily, we could make a few plays down the stretch."

Will Sheehey tossed in 10 points off the bench. Watford finished with nine points and eight boards.

Indiana shot a pedestrian 42 percent (31 percent from 3) and made two less buckets than Temple (21 to 19). The Hoosiers, as they have all year, held a sizable advantage at the free throw line, making 16 of 20 to the Owls' 7 of 8.

Turnovers were a big problem for Indiana early, but the Hoosiers ended the game with just 12. Indiana only turned it over twice in the final 18:50, including none from the 10:19 mark on. Indiana also was only whistled for eight fouls in the entire contest.

For Temple (24-10), the statistics pretty much begin and end with Wyatt. In the first half, he was 8 for 14 and scored 20 of the Owls' 29 points. Wyatt slowed in the second half, hitting 4 of 10 from the floor, but still finished with a staggering 31 points.

He didn't tally and assist, though, and was Temple's only offensive threat of the afternoon. Just two other Owls even made a field goal.

While the final spurt steals the headlines, the Hoosiers really won this game on the defensive end. Indiana held Temple to 34 percent shooting, including 3 for 24 from beyond the arc. This allowed Indiana to hang around for the first 37 minutes when it had no business doing so. Without the consistently stout defense, there's not even a chance for a late rally.

I thought Crean did a couple masterful things.

When Wyatt was going all Kobe in the first half, it would've been very easy to scrap the game plan and commit the entire defense to slowing him down. But there was no way Wyatt was going to keep it up, and making that kind of defensive adjustment could've opened the door for other Temple players to get going, which they never did. Crean moved Olapdio off Wyatt for a little while in favor of Remy Abell and Sheehey, but for the most part, Crean stuck to the script and just let his guys play. It worked as Oladipo disrupted Wyatt more and more as the game wore on.

The other one was a minute move that was simple and genius. On the possession before Oladipo's dagger 3-pointer, with Indiana clinging to a one-point lead, Temple called a timeout with eight seconds left on the shot clock, presumably to draw up a set to get Wyatt the ball. Crean had Kevin Ferrell, who was guarding the in-bounder, turn his back to the ball and double Wyatt, preventing Temple from throwing it in to their star. This resulted in Wyatt never touching the ball and a far lesser player -- it happened to be Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson -- taking a contested, difficult shot and missing everything.

By far, my favorite part about this game is the fact that I get to watch this group play together at least one more time. The final three minutes of this win and quotes like this are why I can't get enough of this team.

"My motivation," Watford said, "is to play with these guys as long as possible, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes in order to keep playing. I just want to play till we can't play no more."

Man, I'm going to miss these guys.