Bloomington – Verdell Jones had a message for his teammates after picking himself off the floor following his 14-foot jumper with 32 seconds remaining in overtime that gave Indiana a 79-78 lead over Minnesota Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall.
"On my back," Jones mouthed after being fouled Devoe Joseph on the play. "Get on my back."
Indiana did just that in overtime, as Jones scored seven of his game-high 24 points in the extra period to key the Hoosiers' 81-78 victory in front of 17,017.
"He stayed fearless," IU Coach Tom Crean said of his sophomore, who made 5-of-13 shots from the floor and 13-of-19 from the free-throw line. "That's what you have to do when you're making the transition to being a very good player, and that's what he's doing."
Equally as important as Jones' effort was a dominating 43-31 edge on the glass for Indiana, which included a 20-10 margin on the offensive end. Christian Watford led the way with 10 rebounds to go along with his 16 points, while Jeremiah Rivers (seven), Jones (seven), Tom Pritchard (six) and Derek Elston (five) all played big parts in helping IU win the rebounding battle.
"The No. 1 key for us today was the rebounding," Crean said. "We never would have won the game without rebounding the way we did."
Indiana also wouldn't have won without the clutch play of Jones. While Jones' seven points helped Indiana overcome a five-point deficit in overtime, Indiana still needed a couple more plays after Jones' subsequent free throw missed. Devoe Joseph – who had sent the game into overtime with a 14-footer with nine seconds remaining – missed a jumper with :04.3 remaining, and Christian Watford hauled down the rebound. Watford – who had missed a critical free throw late in Indiana's loss to Illinois last weekend – made both free throws to extend the lead to three.
Joseph then missed a desperation 3-pointer just inside the halfcourt at the buzzer, and much of the student section poured onto the floor to celebrate a win that moved Indiana to 8-9 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten and into a tie for seventh in the league with Purdue and Northwestern. Minnesota, meanwhile, dropped to 12-6 overall and 3-3 in league play.
While the students celebrated Indiana's second Big Ten win of the season, Crean was able to exhale and applaud an effort that saw Indiana jump to 14-point lead in the first half and a 15-point cushion in the second half before Minnesota rallied to send the game into overtime.
"I'm very, very proud of our effort," said Crean, whose 2009-10 team has now has won one more conference game than his first Indiana squad did. "There were so many times we could have folded our tents and we didn't."
The most likely time for Indiana fold was in overtime, after Indiana had squandered an 11-point second half lead with 6:38 remaining. Jones was awarded a basket on a goal tend at the 6:38 mark to extend IU's lead to 68-57, but the Hoosiers wouldn't make another field goal until overtime. The struggles from the field were compounded by issues at the free-throw line, where Derek Elston and Jones both missed free throws in the final minute of regulation.
"That was the first thing my dad said to me after the game," said Jones, who had seriously considered playing at Minnesota before picking the Hoosiers two summers ago. "You got to make those free throws and then the game wouldn't be so close."
Those late offensive woes set the stage for Minnesota, which ran off eight straight to cut it to 68-66 with 1:46 left on a layup by Paul Carter. After Elston made one of two free throws with :43.4 remaining, Joseph cut the lead to one with a 14-footer in the lane with 30 seconds remaining. Jones answered with a free throw, but knocked down another mid-range jumper with nine seconds left to tie the game at 70.
As if Minnesota's comeback wasn't demoralizing enough, Indiana nearly tossed away the game moments later when Al Nolen stepped in front of Jordan Hulls' in-bounds pass with seven seconds remaining. But Nolen stepped out of bounds while intercepting the pass, and Watford missed a 16-footer at the end of regulation.
Minnesota appeared poised to run away with the game in overtime, as back-to-back Joseph 3-pointers gave the Gophers a 76-71 lead with 3:22 remaining. But Indiana battled back, getting a layup from Jeremiah Rivers, two free throws from Jones, and then a 17-footer from Jones to cut the lead to one, setting the stage for Jones' play.
"It was a great lesson for us to learn that there's a lot of time in a five-minute game," Crean said. "We didn't have to shoot a quick 3, we didn't have to force a shot, we just had to play."
Indiana did that, and Jones made the big play that turned a potentially crushing loss into a heart-stopping win.
"It's a great win," said Crean. "I'm very proud of their effort."
Watford 5-10 5-6 16, Pritchard 3-5 1-2 7, Hulls 3-5 0-0 8, Rivers 1-5 1-4 3, Jones 5-13 13-19 24, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Capobianco 2-3 0-2 5, Elston 1-5 3-4 5, Dumes 4-11 2-3 13. Totals 24-57 25-40 81.
Johnson 2-2 0-0 4, Sampson 3-5 11-15 17, Nolen 0-4 5-8 5, Westbrook 3-6 0-0 7, Hoffarber 2-7 0-0 5, Carter 4-8 1-2 9, Cobbs 1-2 0-0 2, Joseph 8-14 0-0 19, Bostick 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 2-3 1-4 6, Iverson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-55 18-28 78.
3-Pointers: Indiana 8-17 (Dumes 3-8, Hulls 2-4, Watford 1-2, Jones 1-2, Capobianco 1-1), Minnesota 6-14 (Joseph 3-6, Westbrook 1-1, Williams 1-1, Hoffarber 1-4, Bostick 0-1, Nolen 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 43 (Watford 10), Minnesota 31 (Carter 10). Assists: Indiana 16 (Rivers 7), Minnesota 16 (Cobbs 5). Turnovers: Indiana 14, Minnesota 11. Blocks: Indiana 3 (Rivers 2, Watford), Minnesota 7 (Iverson 2, Sampson 2, Johnson, Cobbs, Williams). Steals: Indiana 6, Minnesota 6. Officials: Mike Sanzere, Tom O'Neill, Curtis Shaw. Technicals: Dumes, Westbrook. Attendance: 17,017.
Hoosiers Ride Jones, Rebounding to OT Win
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