The Indiana Hoosiers hoisted the Big Ten championship trophy, posed for pictures and cut down the nets at both ends of the court at Assembly Hall Tuesday night. The #2 ranked Hoosiers celebrated clinching a share of the Big Ten regular season title, even after a 67-58 loss to #14 Ohio State on senior night.
"These guys have earned that," said Indiana coach Tom Crean. "I have a responsibility to them. We're going to hang our own banner up there. Whether it's shared, whether it's not shared, they've earned that."
"We earned that right," added Jordan Hulls, who scored eight points in his final game at Assembly Hall. "Obviously, we didn't like to lose, but we did earn the right to cut down the nets. We're happy with that, but we definitely would have liked to have won."
The Hoosiers could have wrapped their first outright conference championship since 1993 with a win over the Buckeyes. Instead, Ohio State (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten) stayed alive for a share of the title. Indiana (25-5, 13-4 Big Ten) can still keep the trophy all to itself with a win at Michigan Sunday at 4:00 p.m.
A sellout crowd of 17,472 battled a snowy night to get to Bloomington hoping for a bigger celebration in the final home game for three seniors: Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston. Junior Victor Oladipo and sophomore Cody Zeller may have played their final game at Assembly Hall as well, if they leave school early for the NBA draft. Zeller scored 17 points to lead IU.
Ohio State pulled away in the final seven minutes of the game. The lead grew to 11 with 3:15 to go when Shannon Scott stole the ball from Victor Oladipo, which led to a fast break slam dunk by Lenzelle Smith Jr. The Hoosiers never got closer than six after that. The Buckeyes outscored Indiana 14-2 on fast break buckets. DeShaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 18 points. Aaron Craft added 15, including several clutch baskets as the shot clock was running out on the Buckeyes.
After the game, despite the late hour and treacherous travel home awaiting them, most of the fans stuck around to honor the seniors who resurrected the Indiana basketball program. They won 10 games as freshman. This year, they are Big Ten champions. Hulls, Watford and Elston each spoke to the crowd and were joined by their families on the court.
Hulls broke down in tears several times as he thanked his family, coaches and friends.
"I want to thank my parents for being there," said Hulls. "They believed in me when no one else did."
Tears also streamed down the face of Watford during his speech. He said it was an honor to play for Crean, a head coach who he says loves his players. Elston kept his composure, telling fans that the team had done most of the work on the end of Assembly Hall where the Big Ten champions' banner hangs. Elston said there is more work to do on the other end of the arena, where the national championship banners hang.
"This is the epitome of bittersweet tonight as far as I can tell," said Crean, some two hours after the game had ended. "We're trying to celebrate what these guys have earned and at the same time we didn't earn it tonight."