The No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers have become known for going on scoring tears — particularly on fast breaks — when they can create even the slightest cushion against opponents.
In-state rival Butler never let Indiana have that chance Saturday.
The Bulldogs (8-2) asserted themselves physically against the Hoosiers (9-1), per the custom of Brad Stevens-coached teams, and knocked off the nation’s top-ranked team 88-86 in an overtime thriller at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as part of the now annual Crossroads Classic.
Butler led by as many as seven before a furious rally by Indiana, fueled by Victor Oladipo’s defense. Freshman guard Yogi Ferrell, who only seconds before had committed a costly turnover, hit a huge 3-pointer before regulation expired to tie the game at 76-76. It was Butler guard Alex Barlow, however, who would have the contest’s final clutch moment, tossing a floater over Indiana’s Jordan Hulls for the game-winner.
The Bulldogs didn’t just step it up late, though. They made sure all game long they’d have this opportunity.
Butler’s dominating physicality manifested itself primarily off the offensive glass and in defending Indiana star big man Cody Zeller.
The Hoosiers ultimately pulled down just one fewer offensive rebound than Butler — and just two fewer total boards — but the Bulldogs turned theirs into scores, finishing the contest with a 27-17 advantage in second-chance points. Four Bulldogs grabbed at least three offensive rebounds (three of them fouled out before the final buzzer). Butler’s bigs consistently boxed out and found themselves in ideal position to retrieve their missed shots as well as Indiana’s — all the while making life difficult for Zeller.
Tabbed as the nation’s Preseason Player of the Year, Zeller actually finished the game with 18 points, but he did much of his damage late or in overtime once Butler’s Andrew Smith, Roosevelt Jones and Erik Fromm all had fouled out. Stevens had his three bigs well-prepared to neutralize Zeller during regulation, not allowing Hoosier guards to get their top big man good looks.
Even so, Zeller was productive late in the game, as previously noted, so I have to wonder what Indiana coach Tom Crean was thinking by pulling Zeller for what proved to be Butler’s game-winning possession. Barlow, a guard, was on the ball for the entirety of that half-court possession and was able to penetrate the lane for the clincher. Zeller, with no threat to his positioning on the opposition, easily could have denied Barlow his look at the rim.
All in all, it was a fantastic game between two fantastic Indiana college basketball programs. Indiana had its chances to preserve its No. 1 ranking late in the game, but one must always remember that when given the opportunity to stick around — Barlow’s winner and the timely 3-pointers from Rotnei Clarke and Chase Stigall prove it — Butler will take it every time.