Hoosiers Overcome Creek's Absence, Michigan

Bloomington - Playing its first game without Maurice Creek, Indiana got big afternoons from Verdell Jones and Christian Watford plus some clutch play down the stretch from Jeremiah Rivers and Jordan Hulls to beat Michigan 71-65 in the Big Ten opener...

Bloomington – There will be no long wait for Indiana's first Big Ten win this time around.

After missing a couple of seemingly-critical free throws a minute earlier, Jeremiah Rivers gave IU a 64-61 lead with a conventional 3-point play on a hard drive with 1:12 remaining, and Jordan Hulls made all six of his free throws in the final :23.8 to help Indiana hold on for a 71-65 win over Michigan in front of 15,034 at Assembly Hall.

The win lifts Indiana to 7-6 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten, while Michigan dropped to 6-6 and 0-1 in league play. A season ago the Hoosiers lost their first eight Big Ten games before knocking off Iowa Feb. 4, and went on to go just 1-17 in conference play.

"It feels real good to get that first Big Ten win and I think the pressure is off now," said Verdell Jones, who led Indiana with 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. "Now we can just go out and play."

Playing its first game without the injured Maurice Creek, Indiana's players got an impromptu pre-game pep talk from Creek's mother, Pammy Morgan, who came to town earlier in the week to be with her son for Tuesday's knee surgery. While her son's absence is a significant one for an IU team that had come to count on his scoring during the non-conference portion of the schedule, others filled that void on New Year's Eve.

In addition to Jones' big afternoon, IU also got 19 points from Christian Watford and a much-needed 11 points and three 3-pointers from Devan Dumes off the bench. Dumes played a season-high 22 minutes and made all three of his 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Hoosiers overcome an early 17-9 deficit and take a 34-28 edge into halftime.

"Devan's been playing really well," Jones said. "It was the old Devan."

Dumes' play was big early on, but it was Rivers and Hulls that preserved the win late. Their late heroics, though, came after both made mistakes that appeared they could be costly.

With Indiana clinging to a 59-56 lead with 2:16 remaining, Rivers missed a pair of free throws that could have made it a two possession game. Seconds later, Hulls fouled Michigan's Zack Novak on a 3-point attempt, and the Chesterton, Ind., native capped an 18-point afternoon by making all three free throws to tie the game with 1:57 remaining.

After Indiana's Jones and Michigan Manny Harris both made a pair of free throws Rivers gave IU the lead for good with 1:12 remaining, making a hard drive to the basket and finished while drawing the fifth foul on DeShawn Sims. Rivers had missed three of his four previous free throws in the game and had also had a couple of costly misses in last week's loss to Loyola (Md.), but he dropped the free throw in to give IU the 3-point lead.

Despite Rivers' struggles at the free-throw line as of late, IU Coach Tom Crean said there was never a thought to sit him in the closing couple of minutes. Rivers had done a masterful job in slowing down Big Ten scoring leader Manny Harris, who finished with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting while battling foul trouble, and Crean's confidence hadn't wavered in his abilities to make important free throws.

"I'm not pulling him out," Crean said. "I've seen him make it. He has to look over to me and know I have incredible belief in him, and I do."

Crean also had plenty of confidence in Hulls, who earned his second straight start and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in a season-high 35 minutes. While Hulls made only 1-of-5 3-point attempts, he made all six of the critical free throws in the closing seconds. Michigan's Harris and Zach Gibson both had layups in the final 30 seconds that cut Indiana's lead to two, but after each basket Hulls responded by making a pair of free throws to keep it a two-possession game.

"I was a little bit nervous, but once I got up to the line and took a deep breath, it all went away," Hulls said. "Growing up here in Indiana, it's kind of dream. You always want to have the big shots, and I was able to have them."

Hulls made the big shots, and Indiana had a huge win to start off Big Ten play. Three days after losing its leading scorer to a season-ending knee injury, Indiana responded with an inspired performance that provided some proof that they will still be able to compete with Creek in the line-up.

"This gives us a lot of confidence going into the next game, but it also erases others' mindset from last year," Watford said. "We only had one Big Ten win last year and we have that now. So it's a new season, a new year, and we're going to progress from here."

Watford 7-12 5-8 19, Pritchard 1-2 0-0 2, Hulls 1-5 8-8 11, Rivers 1-4 2-5 4, Jones 7-14 5-8 20, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Capobianco 0-1 0-0 0, Elston 2-2 0-0 4, Dumes 4-9 0-0 11. Totals 23=49 20-29 71.

Sims 5-12 2-4 12, Novak 5-10 4-5 18, Douglass 6-11 0-0 16, Harris 4-11 4-4 13, Lucas-Perry 0-4 0-0 0, Morris 1-2 0-0 2, Wright 0-4 0-0 0, Vogrich 0-1 0-0 0, Gibson 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 22-56 12-15 65.

3-Pointers: Indiana 5-13 (Dumes 3-7, Hulls 1-5, Jones 1-1), Michigan 9-28 (Douglass 4-6, Novak 4-9, Harris 1-5, Sims 0-2, Wright 0-3, Lucas-Perry 0-2, Vogrich 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 31 (Rivers 9), Michigan 35 (Novak 9). Assists: Indiana 13 (Jones 5), Michigan 15 (Lucas-Perry 5). Turnovers: Indiana 9, Michigan 13. Blocks: Indiana 2 (Pritchard, Rivers), Michigan 4 (Morris 2, Novak, Gibson). Steals: Indiana 10, Michigan 3. Officials: Ed Corbett, John Cahill, Mike Sanzere. Attendance: 15,034.

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