It hasn't been long since many Indiana fans wanted Tom Crean gone. Well, with the Hoosiers winning this season's regular-season Big Ten championship and still dancing in the NCAA tournament, that number has surely shrunk close to zero.
Indiana scored a huge win Saturday, knocking off longtime rival Kentucky in a highly anticipated game that lived up to the hype for a 73-67 win and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Hoosiers didn't have their usual hot 3-point shooting but found another way to win, getting big second-half performances from senior point guard Yogi Ferrell and freshman big man Thomas Bryant. The duo combined for 37 points, 28 of those coming after halftime. Bryant was particularly clutch, taking post feeds from Ferrell and turning them into baskets as well as coming up time after time at the free-throw line. Bryant scored 15 of his 19 points over the game's final seven and a half minutes.
Somehow, the Hoosiers held a one-point lead at halftime despite shooting 3-for-11 from 3-point range over the first 20 minutes and getting just seven points from Ferrell on 2-for-7 shooting. SEC Player of the Year — and Chicago native — Tyler Ulis scored 12 points in the first half and was terrific the entire game. But Indiana outscored Kentucky, 18-10, over the last eight and a half minutes before halftime. The Wildcats nearly went the final five minutes of the half without a made basket.
Indiana streaked out of halftime to build a six-point lead, but that was erased in a blink as Kentucky scored eight points in a minute to zoom into the lead. The two teams went back and forth for the majority of the second half, an extremely entertaining display of basketball. A Ulis layup tied the game at 50 with eight minutes to play, but the Hoosiers answered with an 8-0 burst featuring a Bryant three-point play and a triple from OG Anunoby. A Bryant dunk with about four minutes left gave Indiana its biggest lead of the game at 62-52, and another slam by the big man made it a nine-point game with just over a minute to play. Kentucky cut into the lead from there, getting a Ulis 3 and taking advantage of three straight free-throw splits by Indiana to cut the margin to just two with 11 seconds left. But Bryant made both foul shots on his next trip to the line, making it a four-point game and effectively sealing the deal when Kentucky airballed a 3 at the other end.
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Indiana shot 48.1 percent on the game, dramatically improving in the second half, when it shot 54.2 percent from the field. Kentucky shot just 40.6 percent from the field in the second half. Neither team shot well from 3-point range, the Hoosiers going 6-for-21 and the Wildcats going 4-for-16. Kentucky had a slight rebounding edge but turned the ball over three more times.
Bryant's 19 points to lead Indiana were just four off his season high. Ferrell scored 18 points, with Troy Williams adding a significant 13 points to help balance out some of his more head-scratching plays in the game, including fouling Ulis on a 3-point attempt in the final minute. The Hoosiers got 18 points off the bench: seven from Anunoby, six from Robert Johnson — who left the game and did not return after re-aggravating an ankle injury — and five from Max Bielfeldt.
Ulis was sensational with 27 points to lead Kentucky.
Indiana emerged victorious in the matchup with its old rival, a regular-season series that stopped after 43 consecutive seasons when the two sides couldn't agree on playing future games in Bloomington and Lexington or on a neutral court. The Hoosiers upset the then-No. 1 Wildcats on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in 2011, the most recent regular-season meeting between the two teams, though Kentucky won a rematch later that season in the NCAA tournament en route to a national championship.
Now it's the Hoosiers, though, who have bragging rights as well as a chance to continue to compete for their own national title. Indiana's Sweet Sixteen bid takes it to Philadelphia next weekend.