BLOOMINGTON – The chant started with about 40 seconds to go.
We want seniors, a portion of the 17,472 fans at Assembly Hall screamed.
Twenty seconds later, the wish came true. Indiana’s five seniors – Verdell Jones III, Tom Pritchard, Matt Roth, Daniel Moore and Kory Barnett – were on the Assembly Hall floor together for the final time.
The group – which was there through the rough times – got to soak in one more highlight, an 85-74 victory against rival Purdue in the regular-season finale Sunday.
It’s a special feeling. It’s something I’ll definitely remember, Jones said. Us five, walking off together, beating our rival in a sold-out crowd. That’s a great feeling.
The Hoosiers used hot shooting and strong defense to build a 15-point halftime lead. The Boilermakers cut the deficit to six points with 1:20 remaining but couldn’t complete the comeback.
Our guys have some fight to them, Purdue coach Matt Painter said, But we’d like to have that fight right away and not dig yourself a hole.
Indiana earned the fifth seed for the Big Ten tournament with the win. IU (24-7, 11-7 Big Ten) will face Penn State at 2 p.m. Thursday in Indianapolis.
Purdue is the No. 6 seed. The Boilermakers (20-11, 10-8) will take on Nebraska at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Christian Watford led IU with 19 points. Will Sheehey (16 points), Cody Zeller (13) and Jordan Hulls (10) also reached double figures.
It’s a fitting day for these guys, IU coach Tom Crean said. To have a win like this. To beat a rival like this. To beat a team that was arguably playing as well as anyone the last couple of weeks.
I’m proud of them. I’m proud of how they worked.
Lewis Jackson had a team-high 17 points for the Boilermakers. Robbie Hummel scored 16 points. Terone Johnson (13 points), Ryne Smith (12) and D.J. Byrd (12) also scored in double figures.
IU made eight three-pointers in the first half. Roth made back-to-back three-pointers, the first from the left corner and the second from the right, to give IU a 28-13 lead with 8:10 left in the half.
Roth scored all nine of his points in the first, and IU led 49-34 at halftime.
We had a couple of breakdowns, but you have to give credit to IU, Jackson said. You still have to make shots and they took advantage when we had mistakes.
Purdue went on a 16-6 run midway through the second half to get back in the game. A Byrd three-pointer cut IU’s lead to 65-59 with 6:01 to go.
Watford drew a foul on the next possession and hit two free throws, a sequence Painter said was the key to the game. Purdue did get within 77-71 with 1:12 to go, but the Hoosiers hit 8 of 10 free throws down the stretch to sweep the regular-season series.
And IU’s five seniors, who were there for three seasons of 20 or more losses, put a period on a 24-win regular season.
There are so many things they can take with them, Crean said. And now they’ve earned their way into a really strong tradition because the one common theme is nothing ever gets handed to you at Indiana. You have to earn everything that comes your way. They understand that now.