Bloomington, Ind. – Alando Tucker might be the best player in college basketball, but for one half, no one was any better than A.J. Ratliff.
Ratliff scored 18 of his team-high 20 points in the game's final 15 minutes to lead No. 25 Indiana to a 71-66 win over second-ranked Wisconsin at Assembly Hall.
Ratliff capped his night with a 12-foot baseline jumper with 1:11 remaining that put IU up 70-66. The Hoosiers kept things interesting by missing three out of four free throws down the stretch, but Wisconsin's Joe Krabbenhoft, Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor all missed 3-pointers in the final minute to help IU prevail.
When Taylor's final 3-pointer missed in the final seconds and Lance Stemler corralled the rebound, many of the 17,283 fans in attendance spilled onto the floor to celebrate IU's biggest home floor win since Kirk Haston's buzzer-beating 3-pointer lifted IU to a 59-58 win over No. 1 Michigan State Jan. 7, 2001.
With the win, Indiana ended Wisconsin's school-record 17-game winning streak and dropped the Badgers to 21-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten. Indiana meanwhile, improved to 16-5 overall and inched within a game of the Big Ten lead at 6-2.
Still sporting a soft cast on his left wrist, Ratliff was unstoppable in the second half. After scoring just two points in the game's first 20 minutes, he was 6-of-7 after intermission, including a quartet of 3-pointers. Two of those came during an 11-0 Indiana run that turned a 40-37 Wisconsin lead into a 48-40 Hoosier cushion with 11:41 remaining.
"My teammates were looking for me more," Ratliff said. "Earl was looking for me after I hit my first shot, Rod was looking for me, and I think D.J. had a lot of attention going down there, which opened it up for me."
White did draw plenty of attention, particularly in the second half. The Hoosiers' leading scorer this season finished with 15 points Wednesday, and he attempted six of IU's first seven field goals in the second half.
That wasn't by happenstance.
"Coming out of the locker room we were bound and determined," Sampson said. "I looked Rod Wilmont right in the eye and said, ‘we're throwing it to D.J. inside, period.'
"The first five or six or seven possessions out of halftime all went in to D.J. and that allowed us to play inside out. They adjusted and starting fronting him, and then that's when we started knocking down some outside shots."
Ratliff's 20 points was just one off his career-best effort of 21 against Kentucky in December of 2005. And Wednesday night's effort came despite the fact the junior is still nursing a left wrist injury that could potentially need off-season surgery.
"A.J. needs a lot more credit than he's given," IU Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "That injury is the exact same thing (Ohio State's) Greg Oden has. (Ohio State) chose to have surgery on him. A.J's happened, and they assured us it wouldn't get any worse. So we'll have to see if we have to do surgery after the season is over. But everything he does we have to do to his right hand."
While Ratliff's flurry helped IU eventually open a double-digit lead midway through the second half, Wisconsin battled back. An 8-0 Wisconsin run cut Indiana's lead to two, 53-51, which 7:18 remaining. Armon Bassett helped Indiana push the lead back to five with a jumper in the lane and then a 3-pointer, but Kammron Taylor answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to knot the game at 59-59 with 4:53 on the clock.
But Ratliff responded with another 3-pointer followed by an acrobatic drive and lay-in to push the lead back to five at the four-minute mark, and IU made just enough plays down the stretch to secure one of the program's biggest wins in recent memory.
"I know this journey is still ongoing - there's nothing final about tonight," Sampson said. "But going back to September and October. I know where they started, I know what they looked like, then you fast forward to tonight – I'm happy for them. The locker room, the looks on the faces, that's why you coach."
The victory seemed to mean just as much to the Indiana fans who were arguably as loud as they've been all season and quickly stormed the floor to celebrate the win after the final horn sounded.
"(The crowd) was big time," Ratliff said. "It was the biggest crowd since the Duke game (last year). It was huge. I think we have the best crowds in the country. They won't let us lose."
The crowd might not have wanted to see the Hoosiers lose, but Tucker, Taylor and the Badgers did everything they could to send the Hoosier fans home unhappy. Tucker scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the first half to help the Badgers open a 28-26 lead, while Taylor finished with 15, including three 3-pointers in the final 5:29 that kept the Badgers within striking distance.
But Wisconsin didn't have enough to overcome Ratliff and the Hoosiers.
"They hit shots," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "We've been in those same situations, close games on the road, and teams didn't hit shots like they did.
"They play hard, they play smart, they get after it, and they hit some shots. That's a heck of a combination, and it all happened tonight."
D. White 7-15 2-2 16, Stemler 0-2 2-2 2, Bassett 2-7 1-2 6, Wilmont 3-9 0-2 8, Calloway 3-5 3-4 9, Ratliff 7-9 2-2 20, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, M. White 2-2 0-1 4, Shaw 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 27-53 10-15 71.
Chappell 0-0 0-0 0, Tucker 8-16 6-8 23, Butch 1-3 1-2 3, Flowers 4-7 1-1 9, Taylor 5-11 1-2 15, landry 4-5 1-2 9, Hughes 0-1 0-0 0, Bohannon 2-4 0-0 4, Stiemsma 0-0 0-0 0, Krabbenhoft 1-5 1-2 3. Totals 25-52 11-17 66.
3-Pointers: Indiana 7-18 (Ratliff 4-6, Wilmont 2-6, Bassett 1-2, Stemler 0-2, Calloway 0-1, Shaw 0-1), Wisconsin 5-20 (Taylor 4-9, Butch 1-3, Flowers 0-3, Bohannon 0-2, Butch 0-1, Hughes 0-1, Krabbenhoft 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 33 (Stemler 6, Wilmont 6, Calloway 6), Wisconsin 29 (Butch 8). Assists: Indiana 10 (Calloway 4), Wisconsin 12 (Taylor 4). Turnovers: Indiana 12 (Wilmont 4), Wisconsin 14 (Landry 4). Blocks: Indiana 3 (D. White 2, Shaw 1), Wisconsin 1 (Chappell 1). Steals: Indiana 5 (Wilmont 2), Wisconsin 6 (Krabbenhoft 3). Officials: Tom O'Neill, Dan Chrisman, Mike Wood. Attendance: 17,283.
Ratliff, Hoosiers Rise to the Challenge
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