BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The No. 1 chants rained down from the student section even before Saturday’s game ended.
By Monday afternoon, it should be official.
Cody Zeller finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and Victor Oladipo added 15 points, leading the third-ranked Hoosiers to an 81-73 victory against No. 1 Michigan on a day that the nation’s top two teams lost. The results will likely send Indiana back to the top spot, which it held for the first seven weeks this season.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Oladipo said after about the expected climb. “You know we started there, we had a hard road to get back here. We’re just going to continue to keep working.”
If the Hoosiers (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten) keep playing like this, they might even change the trend and hang around for a while.
Since Indiana’s loss to Butler on Dec. 15, the No. 1 spot has been held and surrendered by Duke, Louisville and Michigan. Kansas, which may have been poised to move up, also lost 85-80 to Oklahoma State on Saturday.
That puts Indiana, on top of its game and the Big Ten standings, in position to rule the college basketball rankings, too.
It has won five straight since losing to Wisconsin last month, broke through a logjam atop the conference standings to take sole possession of the league lead at the midway point and became the first team in school history to beat No. 1-ranked teams at home in back-to-back seasons.
They did it on a night that the students bounced, cheered, booed, pointed, sang and finally closed out the game by not rushing the court as they had with the Hoosiers’ other two wins over No. 1 teams in Bloomington — Michigan State in 2001 and Kentucky in 2011. And they did it on a weekend Indiana coach Tom Crean is off to watch his brother-in-law coaches, Jim and Jack Harbaugh, coach against one another in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Players kept their celebration in check, too, though Oladipo did apologize for trying a tomahawk dunk that was ruled to be after the buzzer.
Instead, everyone acted as if they expected it.
“That’s not what they play for,” Crean explained when asked about returning to No. 1. “I think they truly are learning that those things are nice, but playing to improve, to win games like this, to face some adversity and fight through it, that’s what matters. When we were not No. 1 in December they heard those things. Were we any worse because we lost by two? We didn’t play very well that day.”
Over the last seven days, nobody has played better than the Hoosiers.
On Sunday, they survived a slugfest with No. 13 Michigan State and eventually pulled away for a 75-70 win over Crean’s former boss, Tom Izzo.
On Wednesday, they handed archrival Purdue its worst home loss ever, 97-60.
On Saturday, Crean watched his starting five all reach double figures. Christian Watford post a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Indiana limit Michigan to 42.9 percent shooting.
“Indiana’s a heck of a team and I’m glad we got to play them tonight,” Trey Burke said after leading the Wolverines with 25 points and eight assists. “We’ll get better from it, move on to the next game.”
For the Wolverines (20-2, 7-2), it was a frustrating night.
Despite getting 18 points from Tim Hardaway Jr., nobody else scored more than 10. They were outrebounded 38-29, sent Indiana to the free throw line 25 times and managed only 17 fast-break points on 16 Indiana turnovers. They played most of the game without starting forward Jordan Morgan, who tried to play on his sprained right ankle but logged only two minutes before leaving for good midway through the first half.
Michigan’s four-game winning streak came to an end, and after moving up to No. 1 for the fourth time in school history Monday, it will go down as the shortest reign in school history — one week. Michigan had spent no fewer than three weeks atop the polls on the three previous occasions it was No. 1.
The Wolverines have now lost 11 straight to top five teams, dating to their last win Dec. 6, 2008 over No. 4 Duke.
What went wrong Saturday?
“Indiana, they held the rims tonight, kind of made us win the game from the point guard and the center position,” Burke said.
But the biggest problem was that Michigan spent virtually the entire night trying to play catch-up after Indiana jumped to a 20-7 lead just 5:02 into the game.
Michigan led only once all night, 3-2, and after tying the score at 5, managed only one more tie over the next 39 minutes. That came at 40-40 with 17:42 left in the game.
It didn’t last long.
Watford broke the tie with two free throws on the next possession, Oladipo completed a three-point play, Watford made one of two free throws and Jordan Hulls hit a 3-pointer and Will Sheehey’s jumper closed out the 11-0 run that gave Indiana a 51-40 lead.
Michigan roared back with an 11-2 spurt, cutting the deficit to 53-51 when Jon Horford scored on a putback with 11:02 to play.
But every time the Wolverines got close, Indiana answered.
Indiana finally got some breathing room with a late 7-2 run that made it 71-62 with 1:42 left, and the Hoosiers sealed the win and their likely ascension in the polls from the free-throw line.
“Sometimes in these situations with all the hoopla and the hype, the game doesn’t live up to it. This one did,” Crean said. “We felt the defense we played last year was what Michigan remembered and we wanted to give them something different because we wanted to prove that we could defend that well against a team that really is that good and they are. Let’s hope we’re all playing again at the end of the season for something really big.”