DAYTON – This was Watford For The Win all over again, only bloodier and less pretty. It was the dagger three without the dagger, and also the three. And it made a flatter sound, an uglier and yet somehow more substantial sound, than the original version.
That one, against Kentucky a year ago last December, went “swish.”
This one, against a Temple team that pounded on and frustrated and beat Indiana everywhere that seemed to matter through the long afternoon, went like this: Splat.
It happened in the only place it could have Sunday, at the defensive end, where everything of consequence happened all day. It happened with 2:18 to play and Temple leading by two, and this lovely old barn, transformed for a couple of hours into Assembly Hall East, all but taking to its fainting couch.
And then here came the pass from Khalif Wyatt, tormentor-in-chief this day, to a very lonely Anthony Lee under the rim. And here came Watford flying in from, who knows, Saturn, maybe. And splat went Lee’s shot as Watford blocked it, and pretty soon Cody Zeller was making two free throws to tie it, and not long after, with 15 seconds showing, Victor Oladipo bottomed a three to put it out of reach.
Off went Temple, somehow outscored 10-0 across the last 3:09. Off went Indiana to the Sweet Sixteen, taking a 58-52 victory that had no business happening – and for that very reason, was every bit the statement game the Kentucky game was.
“Definitely, I feel like that,” Watford said, when asked if Watford For The Block was bigger than Watford For The Win, in the grander scheme. “I feel like it is right now.”
A couple of seats down at the podium, Indiana coach Tom Crean suddenly grinned.
“Think you can sell as many pictures of that?” he said.
Probably not, because this wasn’t as prime a photo op, and it wasn’t a photo op kind of day, anyway. It was the kind of day that, even a couple of weeks ago, would have been Indiana’s last in this tournament, because Temple did exactly to the Hoosiers what Wisconsin did twice this year: Slow them down, take away the three-point line (where Indiana was 4 of 13) and defuse the Hoosiers’ boomerang transition game.
Sunday was Indiana’s answer to all that.
“This is as tough a team as we’ve faced all year long,” Crean said. “(But) our guys, in the second half, they never wavered in the belief they could and would win the game. Our guys did a great job of continuing to believe.”
And there were any number of heroes, when it all was finished. Watford, certainly. Oladipo for the bloodless three. Oladipo and Remy Abell and a whole gang of others who finally threw a lasso around Wyatt, holding him without a field goal for the last 6:19 after he’d scored 29 points in the previous 33:41.
And then there was Jordan Hulls, who went to the locker room in the first half with a dinged shoulder, then returned in the second to play 11 tough minutes.
“Have to do more than that to keep me off the floor in this kind of situation,” he said.
Which explains more than anything why the Hoosiers are still upright, even though they were outrebounded 14-4 on the offensive end. And even though, after Temple took the lead with 2:18 left in the first half, Indiana didn’t lead again until just 1:19 remained.
No matter. On they go.
“I don’t want it to end,” Crean said. “I really don’t. I love being around these guys. They’re as smart and cerebral and tough-minded as any group I’ve ever been around.”
As if Sunday didn’t prove that.