No. 2 Indiana rallies to trip No. 7 Michigan, earns title
By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Cody Zeller squeezed the basketball as the final seconds ticked off the clock, sealing Indiana’s first outright Big Ten title in two decades.
It was a fitting finish, for sure. Because without some huge plays by their 7-foot center, the second-ranked Hoosiers would’ve had to share the conference championship.
Zeller made a go-ahead layup with 13 seconds left and altered Trey Burke’s shot at the other end, lifting Indiana to a 72-71 victory over No. 7 Michigan on Sunday.
After falling out of bounds on the final sequence, Zeller got up quickly and gave teammate Christian Watford someone to save the ball to at the end.
“We’ve been working on that all year — closing out games,” said Zeller, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds.
The Hoosiers (26-5, 14-4) trailed by five in the final minute but took advantage when the Wolverines (25-6, 12-6) were unable to close it out at the foul line, costing themselves a piece of the Big Ten title.
Jordan Morgan had a fairly easy tip-in attempt of Burke’s miss that could have won it for Michigan, but the ball rolled tantalizingly around the rim and off.
“It just hung there,” Burke said.
Watford got to the rebound — Indiana had 23 more boards than Michigan — with 4 seconds left and threw it back in bounds to Zeller.
“Christian made a great play at the end that people might not realize, saving the ball to Cody,” Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls said.
A couple of Michigan’s rivals surely wish the Wolverines had won.
Ohio State, which beat Illinois on Sunday, needed an Indiana loss to earn a share of the conference championship. Michigan State was in the same position before defeating Northwestern later in the day.
The Hoosiers had already clinched a share of the title, for the first time since 2002, but needed another victory to finish alone atop the conference for the first time since 1993.
“In retrospect, that’ll be good and that’ll sink in,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
Indiana’s 26th victory, and the fact that it withstood test after test in the highly competitive Big Ten, might have earned the Hoosiers a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They will be the top-seeded team at this week’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago.
“We’re not done yet,” Hulls said.
When the Hoosiers finished off Michigan and the teams shook hands along the sideline, Crean and Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer, a former Hoosiers assistant, had a heated exchange.
“I’m not talking about any of that,” Crean said. “Ask him.”
A message seeking comment from Meyer was left with a Michigan spokesman.
The Wolverines blew a chance to win a share of the Big Ten title for a second straight year for the first time since the 1985 and 1986 seasons.
“This really hurts,” Burke acknowledged. “This was for a championship.”
Morgan made a tiebreaking putback with 1:35 left, teammate Tim Hardaway followed with a layup on the Wolverines’ next possession and Glen Robinson III made the first of two free throws with 52 seconds to go to give the Wolverines a 71-66 lead.
After Zeller made a shot on the ensuing possession, Hardaway missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Zeller then connected on two free throws and Burke couldn’t convert at the line, missing the front end of another haunting 1-and-1.
“This game wasn’t blown on the free throw line,” Michigan coach John Beilein insisted. “Those two are our leaders, and they’ve won a lot of games for us. We’re never going to put this on them.”
Zeller hit another big shot down low, a double-pump layup, for the 14th lead change in the game.
Burke and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, both of whom are Big Ten and national player of the year candidates, struggled to make shots all game at Crisler Center.
Zeller, meanwhile, made sure no one forgot about him.
“I’ve been saying all year long, he should be the player of the year,” Oladipo said. “If you don’t give it to him, something’s wrong with y’all.”
Oladipo had 14 points on 7-of-18 shooting and a career-high 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.
“We gave up 24 offensive rebounds,” Hardaway said. “That’s a disgrace.”
Will Sheehey scored 10 points, six of which came on key 3-pointers, for the Hoosiers.
Burke scored 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting. Robinson added 13 points, Nik Stauskas had 10 of his 12 points in the first half and Hardaway scored 11. The Wolverines were 7 of 13 at the foul line.
Indiana, looking as though it didn’t want to give any other team a piece of the Big Ten championship, got off to a strong start and led 10-3 when Yogi Ferrell’s field goal followed a pair of 3-pointers from Hulls.
The Wolverines took control in the first half with a 12-0 run, but faded toward halftime and led 33-30 after 20 minutes.
Michigan led by as many as 11 points — matching the biggest lead any team has had against the Hoosiers — and looked as though it was going to be on the winning end of a closely contested game until it simply could not make key free throws or stop Zeller.
“There was a strong belief (in a comeback), but obviously they had to miss some shots with the free throws to make that happen and they did,” Crean said.
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