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This is the Sheehey we've been waiting to see

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Tipoff: Ohio State at Indiana, 4 p.m., Sunday
Radio: 1250-AM
TV: CBS

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

IU senior rises to challenge in upset of Iowa

Friday, February 28, 2014 - 2:32 am

BLOOMINGTON – Who was this Indiana imposter disguised as Will Sheehey?

On Thursday night, he was a dominator, a do-it-all force of basketball nature who finally played to his senior potential, and perhaps a bit more.

Sheehey was a catalyst in Indiana's 93-86 upset of No. 20 Iowa. He scored, rebounded, defended and directed. He was a point-a-minute man, thriving offensively as never before in a Cream and Crimson uniform.

Sheehey set career highs for points (30), shots (20) and baskets (13). He grabbed four rebounds and had three assists and one steal. He played with passion and purpose, and the Hoosiers, as they haven't always in this roller-coaster season, responded.

“Will's performance was fantastic,” coach Tom Crean said. “He plays so hard. He's playing like the Will Sheehey everybody has come to know.

“We need his leadership. We need his courage.

“It's never been easy. All his friends that he's come up with here are gone. We have huge leadership expectations for him because he's capable. He's embracing those right now.”

Embracing didn't bring arrogance, even on a night when he was recognized for surpassing 1,000 career points. Sheehey deflected praise by praising teammates such as Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson, who got him the ball when he needed it.

“It was these guys finding me in transition,” he said. “Yogi threw me two or three over-the-top passes. Stan finds me on back cuts all the time. I was scoring without the ball because these guys found me.”

Consider Sheehey was last year's Big Ten sixth man of the year, that he had spent part of the summer in Russia as a member of the U.S. team in the World University Games (averaging 10.6 points), that he had length and athleticism and IU-record-breaking fitness.

He had the look of one of the Big Ten's best but rarely produced like it. He had decent numbers this season (10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds) but not game-changing ones.

For one night, at least, that changed. He was the best player on the court, although he wasn't ready to call it his best game as a Hoosier.

“Defensively I wasn't that great. I've played some better games on both ends of the court. But offensively, yeah, probably (it was his best).”

That leads to a better question: Can Sheehey sustain it?

If he can, the Hoosiers can win their final three regular-season games against Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan; reach 9-9 in Big Ten play and 19-12 overall; and almost certainly steal an NCAA tourney at-large bid.

Imagine that.

Sometimes it comes down to toughness.

Forget all the strategy, philosophy and motivational gimmickry. Sometimes you just have to make a play, hit a shot and grab a rebound.

The Hoosiers did all that Thursday night.

Iowa, arriving with a two-game losing streak and a leaky defense, played to Indiana's strength. It pushed the pace, allowing the Hoosiers to get into transition frenzy rather than half-court grind.

Yes, that mattered.

“We like to play at that pace," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said, "but clearly they played better at that pace."

A first half of racehorse basketball produced a 52-49 Iowa halftime lead. The Hawkeyes shot 59 percent from the field behind Roy Devyn Marble's 14 points and four assists.

The second half has not been a Hoosier strength, and it didn't start well when Iowa (19-9, 8-7) pushed ahead by seven. But then IU toughened as it hadn't in the last month. Even with leading scorers Ferrell and Noah Vonleh offensive afterthoughts (combining for just 12 points), the Hoosiers rallied for a lead and held it.

There would be no late collapse to relive the misery from Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin defeats.

Now the Hoosiers have big-time wins over Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. If they can beat No. 22 Ohio State on Sunday and dangerous Nebraska on Wednesday, both at Assembly Hall, they'd enter the regular-season finale at No. 16 Michigan with an NCAA tourney-making shot.

But that is for later. For now, consider this:

Sheehey is no imposter and IU has a chance.

Imagine that.

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.