INDIANAPOLIS — Cody Zeller couldn’t have produced a much more fitting end.
Days before he officially becomes an Indiana student, on the floor of Conseco Fieldhouse where he’d hoisted three state championship trophies, the Washington forward ended his high school career with yet another MVP award. He registered 26 points and 15 rebounds for his third double-double in four games in all-star week, and led Indiana’s All-Stars to a 94-82 win over Kentucky, giving Indiana a sweep in the series for the third straight year.
In the waning minutes, he walked off the Conseco floor to a raucous ovation of a crowd that included numerous fans dressed in Indiana crimson, and those same fans erupted when he was named the game’s MVP.
Indiana coach Mike Hackett, usually the coach at Munster High School, was just as in awe.
“I knew he was good, I just didn’t know he was this good,” Hackett said. “I had no idea. I’ve watched him play at the state finals, is the only time I’ve seen him play every year. I knew he was good, but I had no idea how good he is. He’s a complete basketball player.”
On Friday at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Zeller was limited because of foul trouble, picking up his fourth 21 seconds in to the second half. On Saturday, he had just two fouls in the second half, and that allowed him to play with much more aggression. He rebounded a missed layup by Pike graduate and Kentucky signee Marquis Teague for the first basket of the second half and kept attacking after that. He had 17 of his points and nine of his rebounds after halftime, going 5-for-6 from the field and 7-for-9 from the line in the second half. He also had three assists, two blocks and two steals, dominating play from end to end.
And in typical Zeller fashion, he played it off as though it was nothing special.
“It didn’t seem like I had that many points,” Zeller said. “I felt like I was just laying it in with all the guards’ penetration. I had easy baskets all night. I wasn’t doing much.”
“Twenty-six and 15 and he didn’t do too much, right?” he said.
Nobody else viewed what Zeller did with that much modesty.
“I know the game last night, he wasn’t mad about it, but he was frustrated,” said Austin Etherington, Zeller’s teammate to be. “That doesn’t happen very often. He wanted to come out tonight and do the best he can. I think he did. He did very well.”
Indiana also got 23 points and six rebounds from Branden Dawson, the Lew Wallace graduate and Michigan State signee. Pike graduate and Kentucky signee Marquis Teague had 12 points and five assists, and Bloomington South graduate and Xavier signee Dee Davis had 10 points, hitting three crucial field goals in the second half.
Indiana actually trailed by as many as five points in the first half and was down 42-40 at halftime. A 20-3 run early in the second half put them up 62-49 and Kentucky was never again closer than seven points.
The other two Indiana signees in the game had better nights than they’d had recently. Etherington’s stats weren’t spectacular, but he had what was by far his best game this week. He had six points on 2-of-5 shooting, but also had three blocks and a steal to go with two rebounds and an assist in his most complete effort. He hit one 3-pointer and one of his two free throws.
“I thought I played better,” Etherington said. “I just knew that if my offense wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go, just to go play defense and help the team as much as I could. … (Making a few shots) made my game and me feel better playing. It just made me play better defense. Hitting those shots were good for me.”
Remy Abell, Indiana’s latest signee, had 16 points for Kentucky, hitting 3 of his 7 3-point attempts. He was 6-for-12 from the field, scoring on tough drives as well as outside jumpers.
That impressed his future teammates.
“He’s really athletic and he can score the ball,” Etherington said. “That’s one thing that IU does need is a guy that can score the ball. I think he’s that guy that can be there and do that for us.”