ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Against the odds, Indiana clinched sole possession of the Big Ten title. That’s the way it was supposed to be, though. Right?
Think about it. This Indiana team, at least the seniors and the juniors on it, started from the bottom with nothing ever handed to them. They grew into the nation’s No. 1 team, became everyone’s pick to win the national title after a road win at Michigan State, and then fell off again.
A loss at Minnesota had some questioning the Hoosiers’ toughness. A home defeat against Ohio State on Tuesday night brought even more questions.
Maybe clinching a conference crown at home on Senior Night would have been top idealistic. Would have seemed too perfect, too easy. Nothing for these seniors has ever come that way.
Instead, the Hoosiers went on the road to Michigan, where no team had won this season and only one had won in the last two years, and pulled out a fairly miraculous win.
They looked disorganized and sloppy in the first half, and trailed by five points with only 52 seconds left. The Big Ten title was bound to be split between four teams.
But the Hoosiers, much like they did in East Lansing last month, found a way to win with big plays at the end.
Indiana 72, Michigan 71. The Hoosiers have their first championship of the season.
“It just gives us momentum,” said Indiana forward Will Sheehey. “We needed to win the Big Ten title outright. We stumbled our last couple weeks, but we just stuck with it together.”
If it was just a share?
“It definitely wouldn’t feel this sweet,” guard Remy Abell said.
Other than when they jumped out to a 10-3 lead, the Hoosiers looked unlike themselves in the first half. Shots didn’t go, lineups didn’t make sense and the edge didn’t seem to be there.
Despite playing much better in the second stanza, Indiana still trailed by five with 52 seconds left. Michigan makes free throws and protects the ball, the game is over.
But Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke each missed the front end of one and ones, and Cody Zeller scored six straight points to put the Hoosiers back on top.