After sitting out Indiana’s back-to-back wins against Purdue and Illinois with a bruised shoulder, Hoosier fans were beginning to wonder if the team really needed Verdell Jones III.
The senior guard showed why he is a crucial part of Tom Crean’s team Wednesday night, scoring six of Indiana’s last eight points to beat Northwestern at Assembly Hall. Jones’ jumper just before the four minute mark in the second-half broke a 63-63 tie to put the Hoosiers on top. Indiana never looked back, finishing off the Wildcats with 71-66 victory.
The win marked the first time in the Tom Crean era that the Hoosiers have notched 20 wins. The 2011-12 season was preceded by three consecutive 20-loss seasons.
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“I think (20 wins) is prominent given we have seasons the past couple years of 20-plus losses. We owned the losses and there is no doubt about that,” Crean said after the victory. “The losses have been brought up many different times. We have read and heard about our record from all over including recruits and recruiters. To get that 20th win for this group of seniors and everyone in the program is a very good benchmark for us.”
The victory also gave Indiana its eighth Big Ten victory of the season. The Hoosiers had won a combined eight conference games in the three seasons prior.
“Beating Kentucky was good, beating Ohio State was good, but finally getting to the 20 (win) mark– we’re that much closer to reaching our ultimate goals,” Jones said after the game “We came from the very bottom. To get more wins this year than we had combined shows you how far we’ve grown, how far we’ve matured.”
Aside from Jones’ late game heroics, Northwestern had no answer for Indiana’s inside game. The Hoosiers outscored the Wildcats 42-26 in the paint, led by freshman Cody Zeller’s 23 points.
“We had (Zeller) perfectly scouted, but he just goes by you,” Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said of the six-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week. “He gives a little shoulder and spins. He’s got a shot for most situations within 15 feet I’d say. Nothing phases him that much.”
Zeller’s night marked the first time in his young career that he scored 20-plus points in consecutive games.
Indiana will look for its ninth conference win Sunday at Iowa as the Hoosiers take on the Hawkeyes at 6pm EST.
Photo credit: Michael Conroy- Associated Press