IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) The thought of Indiana winning even a sliver of the Big Ten title seemed far-fetched in January.
After two months of inspired and unexpectedly stellar play, the Hoosiers have claimed the crown all for themselves.
Yogi Ferrell had 20 points, including a crucial 3 with 37 seconds, and No. 12 Indiana clinched its second outright Big Ten title in four years by holding off No. 16 Iowa 81-78 on Tuesday night.
Troy Williams had 15 points for the Hoosiers (24-6, 14-3), who will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.
“Our guys they’ve responded all year, and that’s the key,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “As far as winning the championship with this group, I probably don’t have all the words for that figured out yet. I just know it’s an absolute honor.”
Iowa fell behind by as many as 14 points before a 24-8 run put it back in front 74-72. The Hawkeyes then got the ball back with 6 seconds left down 3, but Peter Jok‘s potential game-tying 3 grazed the rim.
Jarrod Uthoff had 18 points to lead the reeling Hawkeyes (20-9, 11-6), who have lost five of six after a 10-1 start in the Big Ten.
“I think we already have. I’m not worried about that at all,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said when asked about how confident he is that the Hawkeyes can bounce back. “We were in a position to win. We fought.”
Iowa’s recent slide paved the way for Indiana – a surprise for much of this season following a shaky nonconference showing that included a blowout loss at Duke – to surge into first.
The Hoosiers closed out Iowa and the rest of the league with their most impressive road win to date.
Indiana hit seven of their first eight 3-point attempts for a 40-34 lead. Ferrell then hit a 3 that made it 58-46 – flashing his jersey to the crowd afterward – and buried a step-back jumper to put the Hoosiers up 14 with 13 minutes left.
“I love them as much now as I did in the Duke locker room because I believed in them then,” Crean said. “Now, we had a lot of room to get better … we weren’t at that place yet. But the ingredients were there.”
Iowa appeared on the verge of collapsing down double digits.
A spirited late run, capped by consecutive 3s by Nicholas Baer, tied it at 70. Jok’s scoop shot finally put the Hawkeyes back in front with 4:27 left.
But the Hawkeyes went cold down the stretch yet again, missing nine straight shots at one point. A 3 by Clemmons and a steal by Christian Williams gave them a shot at overtime, but Clemmons air-balled a 3 and Jok missed an open look from the corner.
Clemmons had 14 points for Iowa.
Indiana: The Hoosiers won 13 of their first 16 Big Ten games for just the third time in 20 years (2008, 2013). … Indiana played without guard Robert Johnson, who sprained his left ankle against Purdue on Feb. 20.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes were outscored by just 23 points in recent losses to Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. … Williams, a freshman who rarely plays, had eight points in the first half – four more than he had scored in all previous Big Ten games. Williams was subbing for Mike Gesell, who picked up two early fouls.
Thomas Bryant scored 12 points with 10 rebounds, and Nick Zeisloft had 11 points for Indiana … Ahmad Wagner scored 11 points with nine rebounds for Iowa. … The Hawkeyes scored just seven points off of 13 Indiana turnovers.
Indiana only led by seven points at halftime despite hitting 8 of 11 3-point attempts. That number fell to 3 of 11 in the second half, but Ferrell’s make was the one they will long remember in Bloomington. “He’s a difficult guy to get under control,” McCaffery said.
Indiana hosts No. 14 Maryland on Sunday.
Iowa plays at Michigan on Saturday.