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COLUMN

Indiana survives with title prospects intact

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Tipoff: Ohio State at Indiana, 9 p.m. Tuesday
RADIO: 1250-AM
TV: ESPN

Online: For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

No. 1 Hoosiers don't waver from big picture

Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 8:02 am

BLOOMINGTON -- Yogi Ferrell found his career high, and if it didn't come in an Indiana game to remember, does anybody really care?

Cody Zeller botched a few early chances, sliced open his chin, took enough shots to warrant MMA consideration, yet came back strong for a double-double, so why sweat the small stuff?

IU is one of the nation's best three-point shooting teams, yet didn't connect from beyond the arc until less than 50 seconds remained in Saturday night's 73-60 win over Iowa.

Big deal.

As for the 52 total fouls that turned flow into stagnation and the fact two of the Big Ten's best shooters -- Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford -- were a combined 0-for-15 from the field for a combined seven points, well, not every game is a work of art.

In the Big Ten, the grind is never far away.

Now it's about survival. The Hoosiers (25-4 overall, 13-3 in the Big Ten) are poised to lose their No. 1 ranking for the second time this season, but that misses the point, which is they're two wins away from clinching their first out-right Big Ten title since 1993.

Yes, they have to beat No. 16 Ohio State at home and No. 4 Michigan on the road in the next week to do it, but that's what it's like in the nation's best conference.

And whatever happens, it will be excellent preparation for the Big Ten tourney and, more importantly, the NCAA Tournament.

IU proved once again it can bounce back from a loss. Yes, the Tuesday night disappointment at Minnesota stung because it suggested an inside softness the Hoosiers can't afford, but that led to a resolve that never wavered on Saturday night despite occasional dreadful offense.

“With a loss, we always have it in the back of our minds, especially watching film with the things we work on,” Ferrell said. “As Coach (Tom) Crean always says, even within the game, just move on to the next play. You can't do something about the past. You can do something about the future. Just move on to the next game.”

And so the Hoosiers did despite all those fouls and 66 total free throw attempts.

“It was hard with the stopping and going again with the fouls,” guard Remy Abell said, “but we have to continue staying locked in. We have to continue playing defense. If they're not scoring, we're doing our job.”

IU did an impressive job in holding Iowa (18-11, 7-9) to a season-low 14 first-half points. It built an 18-point second-half lead, then withstood a brief Iowa rally that basically cut that in half.

“They have enough weapons, enough experience and enough poise that they are going to be hard to catch,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said.

The Hoosiers can win in offensive shootouts. They can win in defensive slugfests. They have become just the sixth Cream 'n Crimson team to win 25 regular-season games because of such versatility.

“Our defense gets us going,” Zeller said. “Our defense can be consistent whether our shots are falling or not falling. It looks better if we are scoring, but we can win even if it's not a good scoring game just because our defense is playing well.”

Zeller got his eighth double-double of the season with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Ferrell's 19 points were three more than he'd ever scored in a college game.

But mostly it was the Hoosiers' resiliency that impressed Crean.

“It's never easy,” he said. “Getting to this point is not easy. Getting to this year is not easy. These guys continue to improve. They have great resolve. It's not going to be a beautiful, picture-perfect game. It's too good of a league.

“A sign of a good team is that it never wavers on the defensive end. That's the

story of the game for us.”

And, perhaps, it will be the story of IU's postseason.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.