ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WDRB) – The more Victor Oladipo talked, the more Tom Crean teared up.
"What did it for me was when I saw Victor and how emotional he was," said Crean, still shaking his head.
This was after Jordan Morgan's tip kissed the rim one, two, three, four and maybe five times before rolling off at the buzzer for Michigan. But this was before they passed out the Big Ten champions baseball caps to Indiana for the second time in six days.
The scoreboard said Indiana 72, Michigan 71, but the scoreboard fibs: It was much closer than that.
With 52 seconds left, Crean's team trailed Michigan 71-66 – and the chances are that those baseball caps were going to be handed to the Wolverines. Michigan was positioned for a victory that would have lifted the Wolverines into a four-way tie at the top of the Big Ten and started another round of questions about what was wrong with Indiana?
"I'm kind of speechless," Oladipo said. "It's been a crazy ride."
"We don't do it the easy way," said Remy Abell, the Indiana guard from Eastern High School. "We like to make it hard."
This was more than hard. This looked impossible. Down four with Michigan shooting free throws and only 52 seconds to play.
But Michigan freshman Glenn Robinson made only one of two foul shots. Then Cody Zeller rebounded his own miss for an Indiana basket. Tim Hardaway went to the line. He missed the front of a bonus situation. Zeller made two free throws for Indiana. Now it was 71-70 Wolverines.
"Nobody thought we were out of time," Crean said. "Nobody thought that we weren't going to come down and make plays."
This time Michigan got the ball to Trey Burke. Surely he would make one, if not two free throws He's an 81 percent free throw shooter. He's a front-runner for Big Ten and national player of the year. He's ice, money, the best.
But Crean had made certain that Burke's legs were filled with lactic acid, by dogging him all day with multiple defenders – Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell, Abell, Christian Watford. It showed.
Here came Indiana, directly to Zeller. Hardaway got a hand on the basketball as Zeller powered up from the baseline. One hand wasn't going to stop Zeller this time. He powered up for an easy bank shot with 13.7 to play.
Michigan lacked a timeout. But it still had Burke. He raced down the court, lost Oladipo on a high ball screen, slashed to the basket from the left side of the lane and threw up an acrobatic left-handed shot, the kind makes him a player of the year candidate.
It still wasn't time for the Hoosiers to celebrate.
Morgan rushed forward in prime position for a left-handed tip in. The ball hung on the rim so long that it should have been charged rent.
"I was trying to blow it off the rim from the bench," Abell said.
"It seemed like it was up there forever," said J.C. Hulls, the father of IU guard Jordan Hulls.
"About 2 ½ or 3 (hours)," Oladipo said.
It finally fell into the hands of Christian Watford – and now it was time for Indiana to celebrate its first outright Big Ten championship in 20 years. They played 18 Big Ten games and won 14 of them, half on the road.
Oladipo jumped into the arms of Will Sheehey, the guy who arrived with him in Bloomington three years ago. Derek Elston danced with Hulls, which was entirely appropriate because they have been together for four difficult seasons. Zeller ran around looking for teammates to hug.
"That was a reason why I came here," Oladipo said. "To be known as one of the greats and to be known as the reason why Indiana basketball came back. To be a part of that is an amazing feeling."
Crean wrapped his arms around every one of his players – and was doing fine until he saw Oladipo crying. Then he cried, too.
"I was good until I looked at Victor," Crean said. "Then I kind of lost it."
And why wouldn't he?
For three seasons teams across the Big Ten had planted their sneakers on Indiana's neck and stepped as forcefully as possible. One conference victory in 2009, Crean's first season. Four the following season and then a backtrack to three a year after that. Four Big Ten road wins in four seasons – and then seven this year.
The Hoosiers earned some breathing room by winning 11 league games and advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last season, but at a program like Indiana there is always consternation.
The consternation raged again last Tuesday when IU lost a Senior Night home game to Ohio State that would have given the Hoosiers the outright title. You heard the questions about Indiana's bench and ability to be tough around the rim.
"There's always something," said Joani Crean, the wife of the coach.
And it wasn't easy Sunday. They were the first team to beat Michigan in the Crisler Center this season. They had to show they were unwilling to lose back-to-back games. They had to survive being unable to turn the Wolverines over a single time the entire second half.
They did it. They did it all. They got 25 points and 10 rebounds from Zeller. They got 14 points and 13 rebounds from Oladipo. They even got 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Now Indiana heads to Chicago for its first game in the Big Ten Tournament Friday. And when you are the regular-season champs of the best league in the country with a 26-5 record, you should be a Number One seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think you win this league and it's the best league in the country, yeah I would say so," Crean said.
Especially when it was never easy.
Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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