Thursday night, Tom Crean’s twelfth-ranked Hoosiers gave fans another uneasy evening as the team held off No. 13 Michigan in the closing seconds to win 73-71 and improve to 14-1 and 2-1 in the Big Ten. Indiana led from start to finish, fueled by Christian Watford’s 25 points. Watford’s all-around game flourished, giving fans and a number of NBA scouts in attendance much to marvel.
Crean credited Watford’s improvement with a revitalized focus that was ignited in the offseason.
“(Watford) has got a serious focus and intensity combined right now,” Crean said in his post-game press conference. “It started to really take shape back in April when we got back from spring break. He has never been the same since.”
The six-foot, nine-inch forward showed humility after the victory, giving all the credit to his teammates for their roles in his performance against the Wolverines.
“It all goes to my teammates,” Watford said. “They did a great job of finding me, I was able to get in some spots and knock down some shots.”
Watford’s night marked the ninth time the junior scored at least twenty points in a game in his career, tying a career-high with four assists in the process.
JEKYLL AND HYDE OF VERDELL JONES III
There is perhaps no player on the Indiana roster Hoosiers fans have more of an ever-changing love/hate relationship with than senior guard Verdell Jones III. Though Jones had a team-high four turnovers, he was key for the Hoosiers down the stretch. Ultimately, Jones found himself on the “love” side of the relationship, knocking down a jumper as the shot-clock ran down to put Indiana up 72-68 with 25 seconds left in the game.
“We kept rolling the dice with (Verdell). He wasn’t getting any breaks, and I don’t like that.” Tom Crean reflected afterward. “We didn’t have a lot of choices tonight. To knock that down like that, that’s him- going left and pull-up jumper. Really, it was basically broken at that point, it was ‘make a play.’”
Jones put it simply, “I thought originally Victor (Oladipo) was going to make the play. I saw Hardaway was on my right-hand hard, so I just swung it through and I made the play.”
Jones finished the night with eight points and six assists to his credit.
FRONTCOURT GETTING IT DONE
With center Jon Horford out due to injury, Tom Crean knew the Maize-and-Blue’s frontcourt would be thin for Thursday night’s contest. Crean stressed attacking the paint in his offensive gameplan. Freshman Cody Zeller and junior Christian Watford rose to the occasion, combining for 43 of the Hoosiers’ 73 points on the evening.
“I thought the way Christian Watford played tonight was phenomenal. I thought the togetherness of Cody (Zeller) and Christian )Watford)– I don’t know where all of his assists went, I know some of them went to Cody,” Crean said after the victory. “That was the biggest part of the game-plan. We had to establish an inside game. We had to go at these guys. They were averaging two blocks a game with (Jon) Horford injured so we needed to go inside and our guys did that.”
Verdell Jones III echoed Crean’s praises of the two Hoosier big men, “(Watford and Zeller) played great tonight. The whole focus of the guards was to give it to them. I think to be able to create, get in the paint and get their guys to come help, opened up a lot of easy buckets for them.”
The Hoosiers will look to improve to 3-1 in conference play as the team travels to Penn State for a noon showdown in Happy Valley on Sunday.