Zeller, Jones lead Hoosiers to win No. 20, 71-65 over Northwestern

Twenty wins doesn’t have the same cache that it once did, But you can’t tell this Indiana squad — which lost at least 20 in each of coach Tom Crean’s first three years at IU while cleaning up the rubble of the Kelvin Sampson scandal — that it doesn’t matter.
The Hoosiers got to that number for the first time since 2008 by knocking off a stubborn and brilliantly schooled Northwestern team 71-66 in front of 17,246 at Assembly Hall on Wednesday night.

The Hoosiers got 23 points from freshman forward Cody Zeller and a huge jumper with 31 seconds to go from senior guard Verdell Jones in his return to the floor to win their third straight game and improve 20-6 overall, 8-6 in the Big Ten. Indiana also got 12 points each from junior forward Christian Watford and sophomore guard Victor Oladipo.
It doesn’t guarantee the Hoosiers a tournament berth, but with an RPI in the Top 15, it comes pretty close.

“That’s a huge burden,” Jones said. “Beating Kentucky was good. Beating Ohio State was good. But finally getting to the 20 mark and knowing we’re that much closer to reaching our ultimate goals. That’s a great relief. I think getting that monkey off our shoulders will help us in the long run. These next four or five games that we got, we don’t have to worry about 20 wins or whatever. We can just really play.”

Getting to eight wins in conference play is a similar milestone. That matches the total number of conference victories Crean amassed in his first three seasons, as the Hoosiers went 8-46 in that time.

But 20 was the number Crean said the team focused on. Since the win over Illinois last week, he said they started discussing the idea in practice.
“It’s more internal,” Crean said. “There’s a lot of teams that are gonna get 20 wins and it doesn’t guarantee you anything. We know that. The fact that we’ve had to live through the 20 plus losses the last couple of years. We owned it. There’s no doubt about that. It was brought up many times. … To get that 20th win for this team, for this group of seniors, but for everybody in the program, it’s a good benchmark for us.”

And the fashion with which they got it just added to the symbolism. The uber-disciplined Wildcats (15-10, 5-8) had won six of their seven matchups with Indiana in the Crean era by backdoor cutting and shooting the Hoosiers to death while also suffocating them with the 1-3-1 trapping zone. They brought all of their weapons at indiana on Wednesday, but these battle-hardened Hoosiers managed to withstand them.

That’s not to say it was easy. The Hoosiers opened with a big lineup to exploit their size advantage, but the Northwestern speed led to more mismatches and the Wildcats took a 16-10 advantage early. The Hoosiers adjusted quickly and went on a 12-3 run by pounding the ball in the paint to Zeller and getting dribble penetration from sophomore guard Victor Olaidpo. The Hoosiers were up seven points at that point and led 37-31 heading into the half.

The Wildcats opened the second half with an 8-0 run when the Hoosiers went back to their big lineup, however, and stalled the Hoosiers’ offense with a 1-3-1 zone to keep the game within two possessions until the game’s final minute. They also got 29 points from senior forward John Shurna and 18 from Drew Crawford as the Wildcats shot 49.0 percent from the field.

“They were playing desperate,” Zeller said. “They needed to win. … With Shurna on the outside (in the zone) it was tough to get it around him. And they’re always flying around. Guys aren’t open very long.”

The Hoosiers kept the Wildcats from taking over, though, thanks in large part to their abilities to cause turnovers on the defensive end. Wisconsin and Purdue are the only teams in the conference who turn the ball over less often than Northwestern (10.1 per game) but Indiana caused 13 turnovers and turned those into 17 points, including nine on the fast break.

“They’re a great back-cutting team,” Jones said. “We worked very hard trying to deny those backcuts. That’s something the coaches harped on all week. I think today in the game, they got a couple of backdoors, but I think for the most part, we took that way and we were a little bit out of sync.”

That still wasn’t enough for the Hoosiers to get much of a lead and Zeller drew his fourth foul with 4:19 to go and had to come out of the game with the game tied at 63. The Hoosiers got a jumper and then a layup from Jones on the next two possessions, however. Northwestern’s Alex Marcotullio hit a floater on the baseline to make it 67-65.

Watford got a layup on the next possession to make it 69-65, however, and the Hoosiers followed with a big defensive stop. Jones then hit a jumper near the left corner off a cross-court pass from senior guard Matt Roth to make it 71-65 with 31 seconds left, and a steal by Oladipo with 14 seconds to go clinched win No. 20.

“We came from the very bottom,” Jones said. ” …. It shows you how far we’ve come. How far we’ve grown.”

AUDIO: Verdell Jones, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller

AUDIO: Tom Crean Part 1

AUDIO: Tom Crean Part 2

15 comments

  1. Kudos VJ3… You certainly should get credit when you deserve it! You made a very positive imact in the game.

    I thought Crean did a very nice job of easing him into the game. A couple short stints, before the extended action towards the end of the game. You could tell his defensive rotations against this Princeton-style offense took a little time to figure out. But by the last 5 minutes he was in the right places, securing defensive rebounds, and fresh enough compared to the rest of the players to make good decisions and tough shots.

    Bravo Verdell!

  2. Hogwash. Jones SUCKS!

    I thought Zeller was the difference….along with a good decision from Crean to not leave him on the bench for very long with the three fouls. Roth’s three was also big. Talk about getting abused on defense? Shurna stays put and Roth never gets that shot five feet out of his hands.

    Eerily similar to last year when Jones came back into the lineup. The synergy has been replaced by good individual plays, but it once again looks like five guys playing with each other instead of for each other.

    Jones regains his position into the starting lineup as we return to Susan Boyle basketball instead of The Synergic Five. Yippee.

    Here’s a song dedication to touch the hearts of chris, Ron(in Florida), Geoff? and all Hoosier fans that wrestled with separation anxiety during a rugged stretch that found a misfiring Hoosiers team somehow prevailing without Coach Crean’s “Chosen One.”

    You go girls.

  3. I will also heap some well-earned praise for VJ3. Oddly enough, I was certain he was going to make that last shot once he took it. I rip on the guy as much as anyone for his shortcomings, but he definitely willed us to that win tonight. As a player who has been here through thick and thin, he deserves this season as much as anyone. I hope he continues to be a factor down the stretch.

    For the rest of the team, congratulations Hoosiers! I am so proud of the guys, and coach Crean for making the Hoosiers nationally relevant a year earlier than MOST of us expected them to be. I am extremely excited to see where they go from here. It would be AMAZING if they were slotted in Nashville for the first couple rounds of the tournament. I would be there for sure.

  4. Harvard – again, where does the sarcasm start and end. I’m just not sure. But just so there’s no question, I still think that we are better off with Jones in a limited bench role. I actually think he proved that tonight. I am completely comfortable with VJ3 not playing a single minute the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve credit when he plays well in whatever inevitable role Crean sees fit to use him.

  5. Psych – I don’t think there’s any question if he’ll be a factor, it’s just whether that’s positive or negative…

  6. This is much more the role I like Verdell in. Limited minutes, off the ball, dedicated to scoring (especially late in the shot clock, after Zeller has had a touch). I’ve been very critical of Verdell’s play, but I’ve also tried to emphasize that I thought he was being used incorrectly as a facilitator/playmaker.

    Not surprisingly, he played well in the more limited role tonight, just as he did last year coming off an injury. I feel bad for Remy, though. He probably deserved to play over Hulls for stretches tonight, Jordy just wasn’t right.

  7. jr5—-Why do you hate Jordy more than Satan and Hitler put together? Only someone with that much HATRED for the guy would say something like that. He’s the best point guard we’ve had in at least 20 years.

  8. Northwestern HAS to have Shurna score a bunch. The Hoosiers have the luxury of taking the shots that are there, whomever takes them. I watched the flow of the game. I’d have to watch the tape to decide how good an individual game Jordy had. I suppose some don’t. Good for them. What stood out to me was several good defensive plays. Imagine that.

    Geoff, looking forward to your analysis of the tape (if you get the time). Most of us appreciate it.

  9. How can Hulls follow up his best game with his worst game? He looked like he was trying to lose. Crazy game is basketball.

  10. The other Illinois team.

    Coach “Bubbles” Weber..Mollycoddling

    CHICAGO TRIBUNE

    “It’s just sad. I feel really bad for my staff. They worked so hard. Countless hours. Preparation. The sad thing about the whole thing, and I guess it’s my fault, instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose all year. And that’s really sad, to be honest.”

  11. Chet was there anything in particular you’d like a breakdown of… Wifey went to bed early tonight, so I have a little time to rewatch… It can be as general or as obscure as you’d like.

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