March 8, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Jordan Hulls and Cody Zeller turned Bankers Life Fieldhouse into their personal stage Thursday.
In the same building where the two Mr. Basketball Award winners won state high school titles, the duo ended the Hoosiers' Big Ten tournament drought.
Hulls scored 20 points, while Zeller had 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 15 Indiana past Penn State 75-58. Indiana ended a six-game losing streak in the tourney, a span that dated back to Mike Davis' final team in 2006.
"It's not my first time playing here," Hulls said. "Shots were falling down for me, teammates were finding me when I was open and I created a little bit on my own. So luckily, the shot was falling down."
For the Hoosiers (25-7), it's yet another feat to add to an impressive resume.
After becoming the first league school in nearly six decades to beat a No. 1 and No .2 team in the same season, after winning a school record 18 games at Assembly Hall and producing the first perfect non-conference season since 1989-90, Indiana now has its first postseason victory since beating Gonzaga in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.
Their last win in Big Ten tourney play was a 61-56 decision over Wisconsin on March 10, 2006.
If the Hoosiers can beat No. 14 Wisconsin, the tourney's No. 4 seed, in Friday's quarterfinals, Indiana will have its most wins since the 1992-93 team won 31 games, the Big Ten regular-season crown and came within one victory of reaching the Final Four.
Not bad for a team that was simply trying to avoid the first span of four straight losing seasons since 1911-16 back in November.
Zeller, the cool freshman, and Hulls, the unflappable junior, have played a big hand in the dramatic turnaround, and the Nittany Lions got a front-row view of how much damage these two homegrown players can do.
Hulls missed only 3 of 10 shots, two of those from 3-point range. Zeller made just 4 of 9 field goals but 11 of 15 free throws and dominated the middle.
"It's been good to me, so I'm enjoying that," Zeller said when asked about his success in the building.
It looked easy.
Tim Frazier led the Nittany Lions with 26 points, 19 in the first half, four assists and five steals. Trey Lewis added 11 points for a Penn State team that went 12-20 in coach Patrick Chambers' first season.
But Penn State's twosome couldn't match the productivity of Hulls and Zeller, who got help from Christian Watford late. Watford scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
Hulls and Zeller accounted for the Hoosiers' first 22 points, and when their teammates finally got involved, the Hoosiers were virtually unstoppable.
Indiana used a 9-0 run late in the first half to finally break away with a 31-21 lead. Penn State managed to cut the deficit to 38-32 at the half.
But when the Nittany Lions shot 28.6 percent from the field in the second half, the Hoosiers wasted no time in putting the game out of reach.
Hulls' third 3 sent Indiana on a 10-0 run, which made it 50-34. And after the Nittany Lions closed to 54-41, the Hoosiers answered with an 11-2 run to take their biggest lead of the game -- 65-43 -- with 7:10 to play.
"Indiana played great basketball. They played very tough, very physical," Chambers said. "We wanted to take away their 3s, for us, we did a pretty good job. But they drove the basketball. They did some pretty good things."
The only question after the game was how seriously Verdell Jones was hurt.
The senior guard crashed to floor, screaming and clutching his right knee with 5:45 left in the first half. He was eventually carried to the locker by two of his teammates and did not return. Team spokesman J.D. Campbell said in an email that Jones had been diagnosed with a sprained knee and would be evaluated again after the game.
"I was hopeful when he went down that it wasn't as significant, I'm going to keep holding out that hope, but I don't obviously feel good about that," coach Tom Crean said. "We've prayed numerous times. It's in the doctor's hands."