Indiana takes another step toward a return to national prominence

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On multiple occasions this season there were questions as to whether or not the Indiana program was “back”. Buzzer-beating win over Kentucky and a home win over Ohio State were two examples of the growth under Tom Crean.

The Hoosiers can now add their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2002 to the resume as they beat 12-seed VCU 63-61, with Will Sheehey’s baseline jumper with 12.7 seconds remaining being the difference.

Indiana got it done down the stretch by refusing to wilt in the face of VCU’s “havoc” system, which forced 22 Hoosier turnovers on the night.

Adversity that would have sunk Indiana in before this season failed to do so, and that’s another sign of what Crean has been able to do in Bloomington.

“I think Indiana deserves a lot of credit for the guts they showed at the end of this game.  They could have quit, but they really, really battled,” said VCU head coach Shaka Smart.

“They fought through some adversity. And that’s what you have to do to advance this time of year. And I think that’s a testament to the players, but also Coach Crean and his coaching staff.”

Christian Watford and Cody Zeller scored 16 points apiece and Victor Oladipo made some big plays down the stretch, and when they got the chance to shoot Indiana made 52% of their shots.

Regardless of what Indiana was able to do offensively, without their effort on the defensive end the Rams would likely be making their second straight Sweet 16 appearance.

Indiana fan reaction (h/t Troy Machir)

IU scored the final seven points of the game, keeping VCU scoreless for 2 minutes and 26 seconds. VCU shot 40% from the field and made 9 of 30 from beyond the arc, with their last three coming with 13:49 left in the game.

VCU had some good looks, most notably Rob Brandenburg’s in the final seconds, but they went cold late. The end result is a Sweet 16 trip for a program that hit rock bottom, and now that it’s up Indiana has designs on sticking around for the long haul.

Kentucky looms for Indiana in Atlanta, but on this night the Hoosiers can celebrate taking another step towards their traditional place in college basketball.

“It’s been a constant grind for us ever since the end of last year,” said Watford. “We’ve been working hard and we did a great job with adversity, and it feels great to be in this position.”

Raphielle Johnson is the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed at @raphiellej.