Indiana did all of that, and more, against a Temple team that assumed the persona of Wisconsin or Michigan State or any of the Big Ten bullies.
For a while, the Hoosiers blinked. Actually, they blinked a couple times.
They didn't break.
Let's make that clear.
Sunday night's 58-52 East Region gut-check victory over Temple showed IU has the mettle to thrive in a NCAA tourney pressure-cooker. In the final three-plus minutes, with everything at stake, it excelled, defended, executed and survived.
That's the biggest thing about this three-week, 68-team event. Sometimes, you just have to move on any way you can.
“It's a win and an experience and an understanding of the game that's going to help us moving forward, without a doubt,” coach Tom Crean said.
So the top-seed Hoosiers (29-6) get fourth-seed Syracuse (28-9) Thursday in Washington D.C. It's their second straight Sweet 16 appearance. The last time they did that was in 1994 to complete a four-year run.
“We made it last year and we know what to expect,” guard Remy Abell said. “We'll carry it over from last year. We know what our ultimate goal is. We're going to enjoy this, but we know we still have business to take care of.”
Enjoyment came from big-play moments.
Senior forward Christian Watford blocking Anthony Lee's shot and grabbing the rebound (with one hand) with less than three minutes left, which prevented Temple from extending its two-point lead.
How big was that play? The Owls never scored again as part of IU's 10-0 game-closing run. Watford said it was even bigger than last season's Kentucky beating three-pointer.
“I feel like that,” he said. “My motivation is to play with these guys as long as possible. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep playing. I want to play until we can't play anymore.”
Guard Jordan Hulls shrugged off a nasty first-half shot to the shoulder from Scootie Randall. Hulls is 6-foot (maybe) and 182 pounds (maybe). Randall is 6-6 and 225.
The injury basically knocked Hulls out for the rest of the half. He returned with a black shoulder wrap and a dark mood. He would do what needed to be done.
Just like all his teammates.
Hulls drained a three-pointer and then a fade-away to keep IU within comeback range. His five points were only half his season average, but don't underestimate their importance in which every point was as valuable as gold.
“My shoulder is good,” Hulls said. “I'm sure it will be a little sore, but nothing too serious. You have to do a lot more to me than that to keep me off the floor in this kind of situation. My teammates had confidence in me. I was able to knock down some shots in the second half.”
And then, biggest of all, was Victor Oladipo's victory clinching three-pointer with 14 seconds left. It's another example of how far he's come from last year, when he shot 20.8 percent from three-point range.
“If he's going to hit any shot, that's the one,” teammate Derek Elston said. “You can't pass up an open look like that. He hit it and I don't think anybody is surprised. That's what he constantly works on. He's always in the gym working on his threes. That's huge for us.”
This was the kind of game Indiana didn't always win during the regular season. Butler once and Wisconsin twice, in particular, had brawled the Hoosiers into defeat.
Temple tried and for, 37 minutes, it worked. The Hoosiers were on the brink. A lesser team would have buckled.
“If they were in our league,” Crean said of Temple, “they'd be fighting for a championship. They're that good.”
On Sunday, IU was better. It is, after all, the outright Big Ten champion. It made big plays at big moments, which is what you expect from a championship squad.
Still, with five minutes left, there were no guarantees. Was there any thought that this might be where a special season ends?
“No. I think about that before the game,” Crean said. “Before the games start, that's miserable for me. I'm sure it is for a lot of coaches. This time of year, it's more so.
“You've got to purge yourself of those doubts. It's so hard. You pray and try to get all that negativity out of your head.
“Yeah, I don't want it to end. I love being around these guys. They're as smart and tough minded as any group I've ever been around.”
On Sunday night, they proved it. On Thursday, they'll get the chance to prove it again.
That's how you win a championship.
Up nextTipoff: Indiana vs. Syracuse, Sweet 16, 9:50, Thursday
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