BLOOMINGTON – BLOOMINGTON – This is what the No. 1 team in the nation is supposed to look like:
•A team that relentlessly attacks the basket.
•A team that makes the defensive stop in the big moments.
•A team that – when pushed – responded.
Saturday, the team that played like it was No. 1 was Indiana.
The Hoosiers took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, knocking off No. 1 Michigan 81-73 in front of 17,472 fans at Assembly Hall. The victory, coupled with No. 2 Kansas' loss to Oklahoma State, likely means the No. 3 Hoosiers will return to the top of The Associated Press poll when it is released Monday.
"I thought we played with a great purpose. Our energy was tremendous," IU coach Tom Crean said. "This crowd was as ecstatic and exciting as any I've been around here."
It's the second year in a row Indiana has toppled the top-ranked team in the country. Last year, IU defeated Kentucky at Assembly Hall.
There was plenty of hype heading into the top-three showdown. ESPN brought its "College GameDay" crew to Bloomington for the first time since 2008.
And the game lived up to the huge buildup.
IU built a 15-point lead, only to see the Wolverines storm back to tie the game at 40 early in the second half. Indiana bounced back with an 11-0 run. The Hoosiers then held off the Wolverines the rest of the way.
"We took care of ball better. We had 11 turnovers in the half, and only five in the second half," Crean said. "… And we defended the three well."
Cody Zeller had 19 points and 10 rebounds for IU (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten). Christian Watford had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Victor Oladipo added 15 points.
"We came together when things were getting tight. We did a terrific job of stepping up and making free throws at the end," Oladipo said. "The big fella (Zeller) doing his thing and Christian with the double-double. Without everybody, we couldn't win."
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell had 14 points and five assists. Jordan Hulls had 11 points.
Trey Burke paced Michigan (20-2, 7-2) with 25 points. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 points, and Nik Stauskas had 10 points.
"The difference was they got to the foul line because they were fast, experienced and talented," said Michigan coach John Beilein. The Hoosiers went 22 of 25 from the foul line. Michigan was 6 of 7.
"That was a big difference in the game if you look at not the officiating, but the fact that they got to the foul line because that's what they do."
Indiana made its first six shots – four of them three-pointers – to race to an 18-7 lead. Ferrell made two three-pointers during the stretch.
IU stretched the lead to 15 points with 11:18 to go.
"We were getting a lot of movement through penetration and everyone was moving around," Zeller said. "That's when we're at our best. To start off the game we always feed off the crowd. We have to give a lot of credit to how good the crowd was. It definitely gets us going."
Michigan used a 10-0 run to start chipping away. Then Burke made a three-pointer at the end of the first half to cut IU's lead to 36-32.
Michigan carried that momentum over to the second half. Burke made another three-pointer to get the Wolverines within 38-37. Stauskas was fouled while attempting a three-pointer with 17:42 to go. The freshman made all three foul shots to tie the game at 40.
But Indiana responded by scoring the next 11 points.
Michigan made another charge. Tim Hardaway Jr. made a jumper to get the Wolverines within 57-55 with 7:36 to go.
Zeller then had two huge putback dunks. Both came off of Oladipo misses. And both brought down the house and served as a knockout blow.
"They were huge. That's what he does. He makes big plays at big times. That's why he's the big fella," Oladipo said.
With less than a minute remaining, students started chanting "No. 1." No need to wait for the poll. The result speaks for itself.