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Within seconds of his last-second 3-pointer’s contact with the net, Christian Watford was swimming in an ocean of catharsis.
The Indiana junior forward’s buzzer beater gave the Hoosiers a 73-72 win over No. 1 Kentucky, bringing enough of the 17,472 fans that packed Assembly Hall on Saturday on to Branch McCracken Court fill it from end to end. They stayed on the floor for more than 10 minutes dancing singing and generally bathing in the mayhem as Watford, senior guard Verdell Jones and others took it all in while standing on the scorers’ table.
“I haven’t felt anything like that,” Watford said. “It’s probably the most memorable moment of my life. It’s the biggest shot definitely of my career.”
It was the biggest and last of several big ones by Watford in the game. He finished with 20 points, knocking down four of the six 3-pointers he attempted. He also held Kentucky sophomore forward Terrence Jones, a preseason All-American, to just four points and three field goal attempts.
The Hoosiers went toe-to-toe with Kentucky throughout the game and took a 10-point lead on three different occasions early in the second half. However, the Wildcats rallied all the way tack to take the lead again 69-68 with two minutes to go.
Watford hit a layup to give the Hoosiers a 70-69 advantage with 1:03 to go, but Kentucky’s Marquis Teague scored to make it 71-70 with 49 seconds left. The Hoosiers had the ball with 14 seconds to go and a chance to take the lead back, but sophomore guard Victor Oladipo lost the ball trying to drive in from the right wing and Kentucky sophomore guard Doron Lamb was fouled with five seconds left.
Lamb only made one of two free throws, however, and the Hoosiers put the ball in senior guard Verdell Jones’s hands on the last play. He drove it the length of the court looking for a lane, but then kicked it back out to Watford for the game-winning three.
“We drew up a play, coach called a timeout, called “Cowboy” for me to get the ball,” Jones said. “We knew they were probably going to foul, but we just wanted to make a play. We had Jordy out there and Victor and we were trying to get a basket. The plan was to get a basket and get a two and go to overtime. Big time players make big-time plays and C-Wat did. When I got the ball I knew he was going to be sprinting down because he was taking the ball out. He was sprinting behind and he was trailing me. I just drove it and he was like, ‘V, V.’ I just turned around and passed it to him and the rest was history.”
Oladipo finished with 13 points. Freshman forward Cody Zeller and junior guard Jordan Hulls scored 11 each. Sophomore forward Will Sheehey had 10 and Jones had eight and three assists, including the game-winner.
It was Indiana’s first win over the No. 1 ranked team since the Hoosiers beat Duke in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. It’s the first win over the No. 1 ranked team since the Hoosiers beat Michigan State in 2001 on Kirk Haston’s last-second jumper.
“This is one of the most shared moments that I’ve ever been a part of,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Maybe the most shared moment, where you want to share it with everybody that’s been a part of this program. … This is the epitome of what Hoosier Nation is all about.”
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