Sheehey’s jumper, Brandenberg’s miss propel Indiana to Sweet 16

PORTLAND, Ore. — The drama didn’t dissipate even after Rob Brandenberg’s 3-pointer bounced off the front of the Rose Garden rim. It hung over top the hoop, keeping the Indiana faithful and the Hoosiers themselves holding their breath and hoping they wouldn’t be the victim of a last-second 3-pointer similar to the one Christian Watford hit to beat Kentucky.

But eventually it did fall harmlessly into the arms of Indiana freshman guard Remy Abell, sending the Hoosiers sprinting to half-court to lovingly collide with each other to celebrate the storied program’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2002 and its second since 1995.

In what was one of the most pressure-packed games in the NCAA Tournament so far, the Hoosiers got a three-point play from sophomore guard Victor Oladipo with 47 seconds to go, then a baseline jumper from sophomore swingman Will Sheehey with 13 seconds left to take a 63-61 lead over Virginia Commonwealth that held up when Brandenberg’s open look missed. The victory in front of 18,167 at the Rose Garden sends them to Atlanta for Friday’s regional semifinal, a rematch against No. 1 Kentucky. 

“Everything just kind of stops at that point,” junior forward Derek Elston said. “He got a good look at it. We were right there on him, but those guys are great shooters. That’s a great team. He got a good look at it. Once you see the ball in the air, you just think, ‘anything could happen.’ We’re very thankful that it was left and long and whatever it was. We worked really hard in this game, it’s  just a great win for us. Another great win.

Said Oladipo: “It’s great to be in here with these guys and experience it with these guys. They’ve been through so much. They deserve it. … These guys are so excited man. They deserve it man. We didn’t quit. And that’s the reason why they won.”

There were so many times when the Rams seemingly pushed the Hoosiers to their brink. As pesky as the full-court press was, the trapping did even more to throw Indiana’s ball-handlers off their game. VCU double-teamed the ball-hander off of every ball screen, forcing Oladipo and junior guard Jordan Hulls to five turnovers each.

But the Hoosiers stayed in it because they were making just as many stops in the halfcourt, holding VCU to 40.4 percent shooting, and because they got several key individual performances when they absolutely needed them.

The first came just before the half. The Hoosiers were down 35-33 when Sheehey was called with a flagrant foul — after a lengthy video review — for making slight contact with the face of a VCU player with his elbow. Forward Treveon Graham hit a free throw to make it 36-33, sparking a 7-0 run that made it 42-33 with 1:47 to go.

But then Indiana junior forward Christian Watford took over, hitting back to back 3-pointers and then drawing a foul and hitting two free throws to make it 42-41 at halftime.

“I just knew we were at a very vulnerable point,” Watford said. “I didn’t want them to get up too big going into half. I just felt like we had to do something. I got some open looks and just so happened to knock them down.”

VCU went on a 9-0 run to make it 57-48 with 12:28 to go, but the Hoosiers got a tip-in from senior forward Tom Pritchard and a layup by freshman guard Remy Abell to make it a four-point game again. And in the final seven minutes, freshman forward Cody Zeller was dominant, grabbing five rebounds and scoring five points in that stretch to finish with 16 points and 13 rebounds for the game.

Zeller hit two free throws with 1:31 to go, but the Hoosiers were still behind 61-58. VCU senior guard Bradford Burgess had a chance to make it a two-possession game, but missed two critical free throws with one-minute to go.

Watford grabbed a big rebound on the second miss, then Oladipo came off a ball screen, found an opening and drove to the bucket for a score and a foul, hitting the free throw to tie the game.

“I saw two people on Cody and I just drove,” Oladipo said. “I felt him on me, and i felt the contact, so I just tried to finish strong. Luckily I got an And-1.”

The Rams had a chance to take the lead again, but guard Troy Daniels missed from three. Oladipo grabbed a rebound and Crean opted not to call a timeout. Oladipo took the ball all the way to the rim and was blocked, but that worked brilliantly for Sheehey.

“Well, they made a great play guarding the rim,” Sheehey said. “And at that time I thought the momentum was on our side.  We had made a little comeback there.  And I’m comfortable shooting at that range.  It was pretty open, so I decided to take it.”

And keep Indiana dancing for another week.

AUDIO: Victor Oladipo

AUDIO: Jordan Hulls

AUDIO: Derek Elston

AUDIO: More Victor Oladipo

AUDIO: Christian Watford

AUDIO: Tom Crean


One comment

  1. Whew! It sure wasn’t pretty, but it is sweet to win! At 1st, I was thinking,” what a pathetic game-win or lose, but the VCU turns poeple over coupled with the fact IU hasn’t played against such a style, makes sense that we struggled, but we hung in there & played excellent half court defense, which is maybe the most important factor going forward, IMHO. I actually feel a bit sorry for Seth Davis, cuz’ everything he said before the matchup was right on the money, except forIU doesn’t have a great ball-handler, they haven’t seen VCU’s pressure Defense & didn’t have enough time to prepare, & that VCU had enough size to slow Zeller down somewhat. That ewas all exactly correct, but IU pulled it out in the end. I’ll tell you whatr though, if VCU had a little bit better scoring ability? That team could go ALL the way..Next up-yikes, UK’s revenge opportunity. Anything can happpen in March though!

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