Indiana fan-favorite Tim Priller fights for time Hoosiers seek to end road futility at Ohio State.

Tim Priller perseveres like no other.

He rides the Indiana bench without complaint, waiting for a call that comes almost as often as Bob Knight returns to Bloomington.

In fact, Knight is returning to Bloomington on March 30 for a 75-minute-or-so story-telling session at Bloomington High School North. That will put him about 1.5 miles from Assembly Hall, where he hasn’t visited since being fired in October of 2000.

It will be a chance for Knight to make money – 3,000 tickets will go for $25 each, with North getting $2 of each ticket, plus $1,500 for expenses – and once again stick it to IU officials, who continue to invite him to events which he continues to ignore, sometimes in favor of attending events to raise money for Purdue along with former Boiler coach Gene Keady. Those coaches will get together at another event in Carmel on March 31 for more reminiscing.

But we digress.

Priller is famous for being … . Tim Priller. The junior forward rarely plays, doesn’t do much when he does, and fans love him like a rock star.

Well, students love him, perhaps because, in so many ways, he could be them – if they were 6-9 and resembled, in a scruffy kind of way, Shaggy from the cartoon Scooby Doo. They shout for him to get into games, and when he does cheer cheer as if freshman guard Devonte Green had just banked in another 60-foot bomb. Anyway, the Texas native does all the behind-the-scenes work without seeing game-time reward. In three years he’s played in 31 games for 67 minutes and scored 25 points. For most players, that would be strong incentive to transfer to a school that would use them. But Priller, appreciating the benefits that come with being a Hoosier, stays and waits.

“Playing is something I have to earn myself,” he said, “but I love my teammates and I’m going to cheer for them, be right there with them no matter what.”

For most of his first three seasons, Priller played only when the game was over, getting a minute here, two minutes there.

In fact, he hadn’t seen the floor in over two months until he got two minutes against Northwestern, coming in with the outcome very much in doubt to play some zone defense while center Thomas Bryant got a break.

Afterward coach Tom Crean explained Priller’s appearance by saying, “We were in a different defense. Once we went back to man, we didn’t feel as good with (Priller continuing to play). Thomas needed to settle in a little bit and … I felt good with (using Priller). There have been a couple of other times we’ve been close to that. He did fine.”

Priller’s playing opportunities were limited in January by concerns over potential academic ineligibility because he added a second major. That created a progress-toward-degree issue that IU eventually worked out with the NCAA.

Anyway, Priller was once again a bench fixture Tuesday night at Purdue until massive foul trouble forced Crean to use him. In five minutes he scored a career-high six points on perfect shooting (2-for-2 from the field, 2-for-2 from the line) while racking up a career-high four fouls.

“It’s a great opportunity. I’m glad I could (play),” Priller said. “Every time, if I go out there, I’m just going to just try to fight as hard as I can for my teammates.”

One teammate, guard Josh Newkirk, appreciates that fight.

“I practice with him every day, and I see it in him every day,” Newkirk said. “It’s big for him to come in and step up.”

Added Crean: “Tim’s getting better. He really is. He’s got a nice touch. He works extremely hard. He puts the same time in as other people do. He doesn’t get the same opportunity, because they’re better, but he was ready when his name was called. I’m extremely proud of him for that.”

Hoosier pride now focuses on Saturday’s trip to Ohio State (17-13 overall, 7-10 in the Big Ten) for the regular season finale. IU (16-14, 6-11) needs a win to avoid playing on Wednesday’s opening day of the Big Ten tourney in Washington D.C.

The Hoosiers are a conference-worst 1-8 on the road. The Buckeyes have won two straight.

Crean continues to push buttons that lead to the brink of making a winning difference, but no farther. The Hoosiers play outstanding defense … until the don’t. They cut and move efficiently … until they stop. They make the simple pass … until they make the ridiculous one.

After 30 games, this is their identity. This is who they are and if you don’t like it, and you’d better believe Hoosier Nation can’t stand it, well, you can always stop watching.

A lot of fans have.

Meanwhile, Crean focuses on this silver lining:

“I love their fight. I love their resolve and togetherness every day in practice. You would not be able to tell that we’ve had so many tough losses.

“They’ve got tremendous resiliency, which is going to carry them a long way in life if they never lose that. They’re working very hard to overcome things.

“I love the fact that they care. We have some guys that are getting a lot better. They want to learn. So those are all the qualities that you want.

“I cannot tell you how bad it hurts for them not to get the results for all the work they put in.”

Hoosier Nation feels their pain. <br>

<i> 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 </i><br>

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Tip-off: Indiana at Ohio State, noon, Saturday

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