PORTLAND, Ore. — Four years after hitting rock bottom, Indiana is making noise again in the NCAA tournament.
Will Sheehey made a 15-footer from the baseline with 12.7 seconds left after a shot was blocked right to him, and the fourth-seeded Hoosiers rallied to beat 12th-seeded VCU 63-61 in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
Rob Brandenberg got a great look at a potential winning 3-pointer but it rimmed off at the buzzer, ending Shaka Smart’s bid to coach the Rams to another surprising March run.
Indiana advanced to the round of 16 for the first time in a decade and just four years after Tom Crean inherited a decimated program. The Hoosiers trailed by as many as nine in the second half and was down 59-53 with six minutes remaining before closing with a 10-2 run, limiting VCU to one basket by Darius Theus with 2:23 to go.
Christian Watford and Cody Zeller had 16 points apiece for Indiana (27-8). Zeller also stepped up down the stretch, including his first field goal since midway through the first half with 2:55 remaining. He added two free throws that set up Victor Oladipo’s driving three-point play with 46.5 seconds left that tied it at 61.
Then it was time for Sheehey’s big shot. After Bradford Burgess missed a pair of free throws for VCU, Oladipo grabbed the rebound and raced the length of the court. He was blocked by Theus, but the loose ball bounced right to Sheehey, who knocked down the open shot for his only points of the second half.
VCU had one last chance and Theus drove aggressively into the lane and passed out to Brandenberg, but his 3 bounced on the rim and came off as Indiana erupted in celebration.
Indiana will face either Kentucky or Iowa State in the South Regional semifinals.
Burgess led VCU (29-7) with 15 points, but he had just three in the second half. Brandenberg added 13 off the bench and Troy Daniels scored 10, only to be left crouched on the floor long after the buzzer in disbelief.
VCU had seen that stunned reaction before, but it belonged to its opponents most of the time over the last two NCAA tournaments. And for most of Saturday it appeared Indiana was going to be the latest storied program to go down against the Rams.
Treveon Graham and Brandenberg made 3-pointers to give VCU some breathing room in the second half. And the Rams’ pressure defense was flustering Indiana to no end.
Indiana trimmed the deficit to 57-53 on baskets by Tom Pritchard and Remy Abell. But Abell missed a 3 and consecutive Indiana turnovers — its 19th and 20th of the game — plus a driving layup by Brandenberg pushed the Rams lead back to six with 6:30 to go.
That’s when Indiana’s defense tightened and it stopped turning the ball over.
Zeller scored 2:55 left on a tough drive but Theus answered with a jumper. Zeller then had a second straight basket wiped out on a charging call, but later hit two free throws to cut the Rams lead to 61-58.
VCU ran the shot clock down under 10 and Burgess made an aggressive move into the lane and was fouled only to see both free throws bounced off. With the Hoosiers unable to get the ball to Zeller, Oladipo went to the rim, scored and was fouled by Juvonte Reddic, his fifth foul. The three-point play pulled the Hoosiers even and brought everyone in the Rose Garden to their feet.
VCU went quickly and Daniels took an open 3 that rimmed off, setting up Sheehey’s winning moment.