Win over Kentucky (finally) makes Tom Crean toast of Indiana

3 Comments

Mark this date: Dec. 10, 2011 is the day Indiana basketball burst back onto the national scene.

And in style.

In a game that looked good, then bad, then bright, then bleak until the final seconds, a buzzer-beating three-pointer from junior Christian Watford sunk the number one team in the nation, 73-72, on Saturday evening in Bloomington.

“We want to be a team that contends,” said coach Tom Crean after the game, being swarmed by Indiana fans that had stormed the floor. “We want to be a team that is really good. I love these players. This is unbelievable.”

With eight seconds remaining, Victor Oladipo drove from the right wing for Indiana, spun and lost the ball, stolen by Kentucky’s Doron Lamb. Lamb was fouled with six seconds remaining and missed one of two at the free throw line, giving Kentucky a 72-70 lead.

After the in-bounds, Indiana rushed the ball up the floor. Verdell Jones III drove down the left side and kicked it out to Watford, who was open for three on the left wing.

He nailed the shot as the buzzer sounded, igniting pandemonium at Assembly Hall.

Recalling memories of the glory days of the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry, surrounded by a sea of red shirts in the stands, Watford led the way for the Hoosiers with 20 points and five rebounds. Behind 9-of-15 shooting from three-point range, Indiana took down their first number one team since 2002, handing Kentucky their first loss of the season.

The Wildcats, who have made their name so far this year with length and athleticism, were crippled by freshman Anthony Davis’ struggles with foul trouble, which changed the complexion of Kentucky’s team through stretches of the second half. Wildcats star Terrence Jones was ineffective, scoring just four points and grabbing one rebound.

“There are a lot of different ways to lose to Kentucky,” Crean said before the game. “We’ve got to make sure that we try to eliminate as many of those as possible. There are a few things that we have to do. And we’ve got to make sure that we do them.”

Coming into the season, questions were raised about Tom Crean’s job security. With this win, that is about the furthest from the minds of the Indiana faithful.

The Hoosiers move to 9-0 on the year and have all but silenced critics who pointed to Indiana’s weak schedule, so far, as a reason to question whether this team could be a force in the Big 10.

Freshman Cody Zeller, the leading scorer through the Hoosiers’ first eight games, took a back seat to the same three-point shooting barrage that brought Indiana from behind against NC State on Nov. 30. Crean’s squad has shown that they are capable of working the ball inside to Zeller, who had 11 points and seven rebounds on the evening, or using their outside shooting to spur long runs. A 16-2 run in the first half helped Indiana show they could play with Kentucky and a 10-0 second half run put them in control down the stretch.

At such a storied program, Crean’s 28-66 record in his three years at Indiana didn’t sit well, to put it nicely.

With the flood of red that inundated the court at Assembly Hall after Watford’s shot sailed through the rim, it was as if the unrest dissolved, lost in the joy of seeing the number one team in the nation fall.

In combination with the Hoosiers’ 8-0 that they carried into this game, along with the number one-ranked recruiting class, Crean has gone from an uncomfortable subject to the toast of the town.

It will be heard more than once in the bars around Bloomington tonight:

Here’s to Tom Crean.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_