No. 2 Indiana Beats No. 7 Michigan 72-71 For Title
Cody Zeller refused to bask in the glory of an outright Big Ten title the Indiana Hoosiers probably wouldn't have won without him.
"It was a team win," Zeller said.
Technically, that's true.
Zeller didn't single-handedly beat No. 7 Michigan on Sunday, it just seemed that way for stretches of the game — and in particular the final minute of the Hoosiers' 72-71 victory.
He made two shots — including a go-ahead layup with 13 seconds left — and a pair of free throws on one end of the court and altered Trey Burke's shot at the other basket in the last 38 seconds of the game.
The 7-foot, sophomore center stole the show after being relatively overlooked in the buildup to a game that featured Burke and the Hoosiers' Victor Oladipo, who are both Big Ten and national player of the year candidates.
"That is one of the best players that is ever going to come through Indiana," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said.
In Indiana's regular-season finale, he played to his potential.
Zeller had a season-high 25 points, one short of his career high, 10 rebounds, two assists, a block and a victory-sealing defensive play in the lane against Burke that didn't show up in the box score.
"I've been saying all year long, he should be the player of the year," Oladipo said after scoring 14 points on 7-of-18 shooting and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds. "If you don't give it to him, something's wrong with y'all."
After falling out of bounds on the final sequence, Zeller stood up quickly and got in bounds, giving teammate Christian Watford someone to throw the ball to as he saved it from going out of bounds.
"We've been working on that all year — closing out games," Zeller said.
The Hoosiers (26-5, 14-4 Big Ten) 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 or in the lane, 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 —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.
"Indiana has been the best team all year," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said Sunday night. "They probably deserved to win the Big Ten championship."
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," 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.
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."
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.
"Cody has a tremendous temperament and tenacity to him," Crean said.