PORTLAND, Ore. — Will Sheehey had two options when he grabbed the loose ball: back it out and play for the final shot of regulation, or take the open jumper.
Indiana coach Tom Crean wanted the Hoosiers to be aggressive on Saturday, and Sheehey was paying attention.
The sophomore forward made a 15-footer from the baseline with 12.7 seconds left after a shot was blocked right to him, and the fourth-seeded Hoosiers beat 12th-seeded VCU 63-61 on Saturday to reach the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 for the first time in a decade.
Welcome back Indiana.
“It’s been a constant grind for us ever since the end of last year,” Christian Watford said. “We’ve been working hard and we did a great job with adversity, and it feels great to be in this position.”
Indiana (27-8) trailed by as many as nine at 57-48 and held VCU to just four points the final 12½ minutes. When Rob Brandenberg’s open look at a potential winning 3 rimmed off, the Hoosiers were finally able to celebrate their first trip to the regional semifinals since 2002.
Next up is a rematch with top-seeded Kentucky in Atlanta. The Hoosiers’ last-second win over the Wildcats back in December announced their return to the national stage.
Saturday’s victory and the trip to the round of 16 is another milestone in Crean’s rebuilding job from the decimated program he inherited four years ago.
“All college basketball teams work really hard,” Crean said. “But these guys have had to come from a long way, a long way, and I’m proud of them.”
Watford and Cody Zeller had 16 points apiece for the Hoosiers. Watford was huge at the end of the first half, scoring the final eight points after VCU had threatened to run away during a frenetic first 20 minutes. Zeller stepped up late with his first field goal since the middle of the first half with 2:55 left.
But while those two were the scoring leaders, they became secondary figures in the final seconds.
The first star for Indiana was Victor Oladipo. After Bradford Burgess missed two foul shots that could have given VCU a five-point lead with about a minute left, Oladipo made an aggressive sprint to the basket and converted a tying three-point play with 46.5 seconds left.
When Troy Daniels missed a 3 for VCU, Indiana had a chance at the lead. Instead of calling timeout, Oladipo tried to get to the rim, but was blocked by Darius Theus. The loose ball bounced to Sheehey and he knocked down his only basket of the second half.
“I thought the momentum was on our side. We had made a little comeback there. And I’m comfortable shooting at that range,” Sheehey said. “It was pretty open, so I decided to take it.”
VCU (29-7) had one last chance. Theus drove aggressively into the lane and passed out to Brandenberg, but his 3 bounced on the rim and came off as the buzzer sounded.
“The guys really executed the plan in that play,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “Rob got a wide open shot in front of our bench. I’ll take that shot every day of the week.”
Burgess led VCU (29-7) with 15 points, but he had just three in the second half. Brandenberg added 13 off the bench and Troy Daniels scored 10, only to be left crouched on the floor long after the buzzer in disbelief.
VCU had seen that stunned reaction before, but it belonged to its opponents most of the time over the last two NCAA tournaments. And for most of Saturday it appeared Indiana was going to be the latest storied program to go down against the Rams.
Indiana survived a season-high 22 turnovers. It shot just 36 percent in the second half but was able to move on because of its own defensive effort that limited VCU to just seven second-half field goals and 30 3-point attempts.
“I’m sure it was a great basketball game for people to watch from the stands. It was really a great game for me, as well, because I got to see this game, the last six or seven minutes through our players’ eyes,” Crean said. “And they were so locked in and had such great resolve to never panic and to just truly believe that they were going to win.”
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