EVANSTON, Ill. — After a 21-point, 13-rebound performance, Cody Zeller sat at the postgame podium inside Welsh-Ryan Arena and was asked by a member of the media to react to the big numbers he’s put up so far this Big Ten season.
“I could care less,” the normally docile 7-footer responded, feigning a smile. “A win’s a win.”
It was perhaps the theme of Indiana’s afternoon against the Wildcats, a 67-59 win in which the Hoosiers were outscored 42-36 in the second half and had trouble with the Wildcats’ halfcourt trap out of a 1-3-1 zone. Northwestern, behind some sharpshooting from distance (5-of-10) and little mistakes on offense (just one turnover) after halftime, were able to make things interesting after Indiana went up 16 at the 11:09 mark on a pair of Christian Watford free throws.
“They just kind of speed us up for a while, we kind of panicked for a while,” said Zeller. “That’s what their defense forces you to do. Once we started getting into the middle, the baseline, we started getting open shots.”
Those shots came on three straight possessions: A Jordan Hulls jumper was tipped in by Zeller. A Victor Oladipo 3-pointer followed by a Will Sheehey jumper also helped keep the Wildcats at bay, though a Jared Swopshire 3-pointer after IU’s mini-run pulled them to within five points with 2:31 to go. But that’s as close as it would get. The Wildcats could do little else but put the Hoosiers to the line late, where they converted (7-of-8 in the last 57 seconds).
“A very telling point for this game was when we scored three straight buckets when the game could have gone the other way for us,” said Tom Crean.
The Hoosiers have now won their first three road games of the Big Ten season and five of their last six dating back to last season.
“It’s kind of tough to explain, even in high school I didn’t believe in home-court advantage (being) such a big deal,” said Zeller. “But now that I’ve experienced it is — it’s worth quite a few points.”
Added Tom Crean: “It’s really hard as a freshman to go anywhere in the Big Ten, but especially to play Northwestern for your first time. Because you have no real idea just how hard they cut, how much movement they’re in … until you go through it, it’s hard, it’s really hard.”
Zeller’s big afternoon
While Zeller wasn’t much interested in discussing his big day, it bears a mention here: The 7-footer was dominant in the paint for much of the afternoon. Northwestern had a tough time keeping him off the glass, where he got a number of tip-ins for scores off four offensive rebounds. The Washington native was able to use his physicality and size against a Northwestern roster that had no body to match up with his, and he drew fouls all afternoon as well. Zeller hit 9-of-10 free throws and recorded two steals.
“He played well,” said Crean. “Cody did a good job. Cody stepped up and did some really good things.”
Oladipo got poked in the right eye at the 10:50 mark of the second half, which forced him out of the game and into the locker room for a short period of time. Oladipo was able to return to the court, where he hit the aforementioned 3-pointer and also two late free throws.
After the game, Oladipo exited the arena wearing a patch over his right eye.
Tweeted Yogi Ferrell’s mother after the game: ” Oladipo has a corneal abrasion. Fortunately those heal fairly quickly.”