Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 12/10/11

Welcome back, Indiana University basketball.

It’s been way too long.

Fans in Bloomington and across the nation have been longing — aching — to utter those words after the fallout from the Kelvin Sampson fiasco and the subsequent 28 wins over the first three seasons of the Tom Crean era.

And what better way to usher in the Hoosiers’ resurgence than with an epic 73-72 upset of long-time rival and No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall with a last-second 3-pointer by Christian Watford?

After what might have been one of the best games ever played in the famed basketball arena, fans legitimately can say their program is relevant again.

The atmosphere at Assembly Hall throughout the game would surely confirm such a claim.

The arena was near capacity a half-hour before tip-off. Hoosier Nation went in uproar when its team even so much as huddled during warmups.

That energy never diminished during play, and it skyrocketed the multiple times IU amassed double-digit leads.

And the Hoosiers’ terrific execution on both ends of the floor left the top-ranked Wildcats hanging on despite a visibly decided advantage in athleticism.

The best team defense of the Crean era saw the Hoosiers, who have struggled rebounding the ball through this 9-0 start, hung with Kentucky’s length, matching the Wildcats with 30 boards.

While IU turned the ball over 18 times itself, the Hoosiers forced 17 Kentucky giveaways. Given the sheer athleticism of the Wildcats, it’s fair enough to say IU has arrived on defense.

Watford, who surely will go down in IU lore with his flawless game-winning shot, led all Hoosiers with 20 points, and he showed real signs of coming of age as a college basketball player. He was willing to get into the paint and attack the rim, and he stuck his hands into any and all Kentucky passes in his general vicinity.

The game-winner was one of Watford’s four 3-pointers; he went four-of-six from beyond the arc.

Other Hoosiers shined too. Victor Oladipo showed no regard for his body, taking hard fouls and leading all IU players in trips to the free-throw line. Oladipo went five-of-six at the charity stripe and finished 13 points and seven rebounds. Oh yeah, and he posterized Kentucky’s Darius Miller with a one-hand slam in the second half.

Jordan Hulls did what he does best; he made big clutch shots, three of them from downtown, and finished with 11.

Freshman Cody Zeller struggled to get open against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, who was a disruptive force down low all the way through despite amassing four fouls. However, Zeller was plenty productive for the situation, finishing with 11 points — a dunk or two off an offensive rebound — and seven total boards.

Even senior Verdell Jones III, who has often come under scrutiny for inconsistency and who made plenty of foolish mistakes in this game, deserves credit for dishing the rock back to Watford on the final play.

The two teams ended up with the same number of free-throw attempts — 17 — but the Hoosiers’ 14 made to the Wildcats’ 10 proved the difference, particularly right before Watford’s game-winner when a double-bonus miss rendered Kentucky with just a 72-70 lead.

And after the shot, pandemonium commenced in Assembly Hall.

Not a spot on Branch McCracken Court was empty; IU students and fans stayed and celebrated the Hoosiers’ first win against a No. 1 team since 2002 in instant classic fashion. They’re continuing the party on Kirkwood Avenue as we speak.

Of course, this party won’t stop anytime soon.

It’ll keep going. Into this week when IU receives its first top-25 ranking of the Crean era.

It’ll continue well into the season throughout which the Hoosiers figure to be relevant in the Big Ten again.

It’ll continue. It may never stop.

Welcome back, Indiana University basketball.

 

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