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Tuesday, Feb. 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

IU avoids upset, advances to 1st Sweet 16 in 10 years

At the start of the college basketball season, 345 teams took the floor hoping to play deep into March.

The field has been whittled down to 16 teams, and for the first time in a decade the Indiana Hoosiers are one of them.

With victories against No. 13-seed New Mexico State and No. 12-seed Virginia Commonwealth University, the Hoosiers return to a place that has seemed so foreign to the IU basketball program in the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to describe,” IU Coach Tom Crean said after the win against VCU. “But it’s a great feeling to be around young men like this, that they do really want to see each other be successful. They know they’re a team. So they’ve earned their way in.”

The win against VCU was anything but easy for the Hoosiers, as IU had to overcome a season-high 22 turnovers and a nine-point second-half deficit.

The Rams entered last year’s tournament as one of the last teams to get an at-large bid, but made the most of their opportunity.

VCU won the play-in game, then knocked off Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to make its first Final Four in school history.

Crean said he knew the task would be difficult Saturday evening in Portland, Ore., but he also felt his Hoosiers had similar winning qualities to the Rams.

“We knew we were playing against a team that really cared about one another, and I think they’ll see that they were playing against a team, in our group, that really cares about one another,” Crean said. “When you’ve got that kind of togetherness, a lot of amazing things can happen. That’s what our year has been like, and that’s what this game was like.”

Heading into the 2011 off-season, the Hoosiers’ season ended Thursday of the Big Ten Tournament for the third-straight year.

Determined to not let this happen again, IU’s off-season struggles quickly turned into on-the-court success. The Hoosiers began to reap the benefits of their off-season work with wins against Sweet 16 teams North Carolina State and Kentucky before Big Ten season began.

“It’s been a constant grind for us ever since the end of last year,” junior forward Christian Watford said.

“We’ve been working hard, and we did a great job with adversity, and it feels great to be in this position.”

It was Watford’s shot against Kentucky that will undoubtedly get played over and over again by ESPN this week in anticipation of the rematch Friday evening.

On Saturday, it was Watford’s late 8-0 run to end the first half that brought IU back within one point at halftime.

As the waning seconds ticked down against VCU, the ball would this time find the hands of sophomore forward Will Sheehey with the game on the line.

Sheehey’s baseline jumper with 12.7 seconds left gave IU its first lead since the 19:20 mark of the second half, and it was the final lead change of the game.

The berth into the Sweet 16 will be celebrated all week by Hoosier fans, but the IU players who took the court Saturday will remember it for their senior class and in particular their senior captain, guard Verdell Jones III, who couldn’t play.

“We might do it a lot for the fans, but really it’s for our guys in this program,” Sheehey said.

“We have seniors on the squad, Verdell, who can’t play with us, but we play for those guys, and they’ve been through it all.”

The wins slowly grew from six in Crean’s first season in Bloomington to nine in his second and then 12 wins this past season.

The Hoosiers doubled that win total Senior Night against Purdue, and for that five-man senior class, the wait has been well worth it in their swan song in Bloomington.

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