Victor Oladipo (left) and Cody Zeller brought Indiana back from the brink in IU's 58-52 win over Temple.
DAYTON, Ohio (WDRB) – Where do you begin? With the Christian Watford block? He's not a shot-blocker. The Cody Zeller free throws? He struggles at the line sometimes. The Victor Oladipo three-point dagger? He's not a shooter.
It's safe to call those three plays big, bigger and biggest as Indiana took its basketball season to the brink and back while climbing out of six-point, second-half hole to defeat Temple, 58-52, in the NCAA Tournament East Regional at the University of Dayton Sunday.
But the play-by-play can wait. Cue Jordan Hulls. He could talk, but pain dominated his right shoulder. Hulls got knocked into Cincinnati when he collided with a Temple player near midcourt in the first half.
Anti-inflammatory pills. Ice. A protective vest. Hulls needed all that to play in the second half of a game the Hoosiers had not been able to control since early in the first half. With 3:47 to play and Temple still leading 50-46, Indiana huddled for a timeout.
IU coach Tom Crean was putting Hulls, a senior, back in the game. Hulls had a few words for his teammates.
"He just kept saying, ‘We're not losing this game,' " said Remy Abell, Hulls' teammate from Eastern High School in Louisville. "He told us we were down five with a minute to play at Michigan and won that game."
"Jordan said they'd have to cut his legs off to keep him from playing," Indiana guard Maurice Creek said.
Put the knife away. Hulls played, dancing into the lane to make a jump shot that pulled the Hoosiers within two points. Scoring from the lane is not Hulls' comfort zone. But this was not a comfort zone game for Indiana. Not at all.
This was a game that was a reminder of the way this team has been tested. Since November? No, since June. This was a weight-room game. This was a running more stairs game. This was a fistfight.
Indiana wasn't supposed to be able to win a fistfight, a game played in the 50s. Keeping Indiana in the 50s is what Wisconsin did while beating the Hoosiers twice. Minnesota got tough around the glass with Crean's team and also knocked them out.
This time Indiana staggered mightily, but refused to fall.
Hulls was not going to allow it. Neither was his fellow senior Christian Watford. You know the scouting report on Watford. Loves to park himself on the perimeter and shoot three-pointers. Doesn't always play like he's 6 feet 9. Sometimes you wonder if he could jump over a phone book.
Until Sunday, Watford had blocked 15 shots for Indiana. The stat sheet that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim will check before his team plays IU at the East Regional semifinals in Washington D.C. Thursday will say Watford has 17 blocks.
None will be remembered like Number 17. The Owls led, 52-50. They were inches from being ahead four -- with only 2:20 to play. Then Watford met Temple forward Anthony Lee on the left side of the rim.
"It's the highest I've seen him jump in four years," said Watford's father, Ernest.
"My motivation is to play with these guys as long as possible, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep playing," Watford said. "I just want to play ‘til we can't play no more."
Not only did Watford block the shot. He also scrambled to the baseline to collect the loose ball rebound.
That was the signal the Owls were not going to make another field goal. And they didn't – not in the final 4:01. Temple missed its last six shots.
Oladipo was part of that surge. Temple guard Khalif Wyatt is a terrific player. He hung his average – 20 points – on IU in the first half. He added 11 more points in the second half, but did not make a field goal while Oladipo was defending him.
But the reason Oladipo is a candidate for national player of the year is he now performs efficiently at both ends of the court. He is the guy who made the free throw that put Indiana ahead, 53-52, with 1:19 to play.
Then it was time for Oladipo to say he wanted to go home to play next weekend. He's a D.C. kid. Temple scrambled to trap Zeller in the left corner. Zeller needed to find the open teammate. That guy was Oladipo, parked one foot behind the top of the key.
He never hesitated. He aimed. He followed through. He delivered.
Two seasons ago Oladipo does not take that shot. One season ago he doesn't make it. Sunday Oladipo took it, made it and ensured that Indiana played on.
"I was just open and I shot it," Oladipo said. "I really didn't have anything to do with the moment or the confidence to shoot it. I just caught it and shot it. I didn't think about it."
Now Oladipo can think about something that didn't seem likely for most of the Temple game. The Hoosiers play on.