No. 3 Indiana gets back on Assembly line with 81-73 win over No. 1 Michigan
Michigan coach John Beilein figures this was a good learning week for his young team.
The Wolverines found out what it's like to be America's No. 1 team, what it takes to hold that spot and what it's like to play on college basketball's center stage as the team to beat.
Now, they can start focusing on what it will take to climb back to the top of the college basketball rankings.
Cody Zeller had 19 points and 10 rebounds and all five Indiana starters scored in double figures as the third-ranked Hoosiers ended the Wolverines' one-week reign atop the polls with an 81-73 victory.
"That's a pretty good team we just played. We have to play better," Beilein said. "It was two good teams playing, somebody was going to win that game. We didn't. Our kids held their own."
As usual, Trey Burke led the way for Michigan, finished with 25 points and eight assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 points. Nobody else had more than 10 on a night the Wolverines (20-2, 7-2 Big Ten), one of America's best shooting teams, shot just 42.9 percent from the field.
The bigger problem was Michigan spent most of the night playing catch-up. It only led once, at 3-2, and it only tied the score twice, at 5-5 and 40-40.
So instead of extending their four-game winning streak, the Wolverines fell out of the league lead and almost certainly out of the No. 1 ranking, too.
"There were some deja vu moments in that room from the Ohio (State) game," Beilein said, referring to Michigan's only other loss. "So now, we learn from it again. ... We'll grow from it. But we have to get off the deck real quick."
The Hoosiers, thanks to the victory and Kansas' 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State, are now poised to reclaim the top spot they held for the first seven weeks this season.
And if the Hoosiers (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten) keep playing this way, they might even buck the recent trend and hang around for a while.
Since Indiana's loss to Butler on Dec. 15, the No. 1 spot has been held and surrendered by Duke, Louisville and now Michigan.
That puts Indiana on top of its game and the Big Ten standings, and in position to rule the college basketball rankings, too.
It has won five straight since losing to Wisconsin last month, broke through a logjam atop the conference standings to take sole possession of the league lead at the midway point and became the first team in school history to beat No. 1-ranked teams at home in back-to-back seasons.
"It's a huge accomplishment," Oladipo said after hearing the fans chant No. 1 before the game ended. "You know we started there, we had a hard road to get back here."
The re-emergence won't be official until Monday.
But if Indiana does make it back, as expected, it came on a night that the students bounced, cheered, booed, pointed, sang and finally closed out the game by not rushing the court as they had with the Hoosiers' other two wins over No. 1 teams in Bloomington -- Michigan State in 2001 and Kentucky in 2011. And they did it on a weekend Indiana coach Tom Crean is off to watch his brother-in-law coaches, Jim and Jack Harbaugh, coach against one another in Sunday's Super Bowl.
Players kept their celebration in check, too, though Oladipo did apologize for trying a tomahawk dunk that was ruled to be after the buzzer.
Instead, everyone acted as if they expected it.
"That's not what they play for," Crean explained when asked about returning to No. 1. "I think they truly are learning that those things are nice, but playing to improve, to win games like this, to face some adversity and fight through it, that's what matters. When we were not No. 1 in December, they heard those things. Were we any worse because we lost by two? We didn't play very well that day."
Over the last seven days, nobody has played better than the Hoosiers.
On Sunday, they survived a slugfest with No. 13 Michigan State and eventually pulled away for a 75-70 win over Crean's former boss, Tom Izzo.
On Wednesday, they handed archrival Purdue its worst home loss ever, 97-60.
On Saturday, Crean watched his starting five all reach double figures. Christian Watford posted a double-double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Indiana's defense played well again, too.
But the biggest problem was that Michigan spent virtually the entire night trying to play catch-up after Indiana jumped to a 20-7 lead just 5:02 into the game.
After chasing for 20 ½ minutes, Michigan finally tied the score at 40 with 17:42 left in the game.
It didn't last long.
Watford broke the tie with two free throws on the next possession. Oladipo completed a three-point play, Watford made one of two free throws and Jordan Hulls hit a 3-pointer and Will Sheehey's jumper closed out the 11-0 run that gave Indiana a 51-40 lead.
Michigan roared back with an 11-2 spurt, cutting the deficit to 53-51 when Jon Horford scored on a putback with 11:02 to play.
But every time the Wolverines got close, Indiana answered.
Indiana finally got some breathing room with a late 7-2 run that made it 71-62 with 1:42 left, and the Hoosiers sealed the win and their likely ascension in the polls from the free-throw line.
"Sometimes in these situations with all the hoopla and the hype, the game doesn't live up to it. This one did," Crean said. "We felt the defense we played last year was what Michigan remembered and we wanted to give them something different because we wanted to prove that we could defend that well against a team that really is that good and they are. Let's hope we're all playing again at the end of the season for something really big."
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