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Hoosiers declaw Wolverines

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BLOOMINGTON — It was rock-concert hysteria without music.

The stars were three of the best basketball players the nation has to offer. Fortunately for Indiana, it had two of them.

With center Cody Zeller producing his best game of the season (19 points, nine rebounds) with the bright lights shining, and guard Victor Oladipo (15 points) just being a beast, No. 3 Indiana beat No. 1 Michigan 81-73 on Saturday night to most likely reclaim its place as the nation’s No. 1 team.

Along with Michigan’s loss, No. 2 Kansas lost, as well, on Saturday, making it possible for the Hoosiers to reclaim the No. 1 spot they held early in the season.

Michigan had its own superstar in point guard Trey Burke (25 points), who did everything he could to keep his team in the game under the amazing pressure of unwavering noise from the crowd. If the crowd was Indiana’s sixth man, it played 40 minutes.

Indiana coach Tom Crean looked like he was guarding an in-bound pass, flapping his arms to work the crowd into a frenzy, as if it needed his help.

Zeller and Oladipo didn’t need a lot of assistance, but Indiana got big performances from forward Christian Watford (14 points, 10 rebounds) and point guard Yogi Ferrell (14 points, 8 of 8 from the free-throw line, five assists).

Still, the game was in doubt until the Hoosiers dominated the final four minutes. With the score 61-58 Indiana, Jordan Hulls dropped a 3-pointer that extended the lead to 64-58. Oladipo followed with a drive to the basket that resulted in a three-point play and a 67-60 lead.

From the 1:42 mark on, Indiana sank all 12 of its free throws as the Wolverines tried desperately to close the gap.

The second half started with a Hoosiers run after Michigan had tied the score 40-40. Indiana put an 11-0 run together, and it was cruising at 51-40.

But just when it looked like things were wrapped up, Michigan answered with an 11-2 run of its own. It wasn’t going to be easy.

Why would it be? It was the first-ever meeting at Assembly Hall between teams ranked in the top three of The Associated Press poll. The previous top game was the 1993 meeting where No. 1 Indiana downed No. 4 Michigan 93-92.

The crowd at Assembly Hall had Michigan in its clutches early, and to the Wolverines’ credit, they withstood the onslaught. It would have been easy to fold.

The Hoosiers went 4 of 4 early from the 3-point line, and when Zeller banged inside for a bucket that made it 18-7, Michigan coach John Beilein called a timeout at the 15:25 mark of the first half.

The crowd, fortified by the sell-out of 17,472, plus everyone who begged their way into the arena, went bonkers. It was ear-drum shattering.

And just when it seemed it couldn’t get any louder, Oladipo drove through Michigan’s defense from the top of the key for a one-handed slam that gave new meaning to bedlam.

It was 24-11 when Zeller beat the Wolverines back down the floor in transition for a layup that made it 26-11.

But just when it looked like Indiana might run Michigan out of the building, Ferrell picked up his second foul at the 10:36 mark. Indiana lost its offensive flow with its point guard on the bench, and the Wolverines outscored the Hoosiers 19-10 the rest of the half.

Indiana looked to be heading into intermission with a full head of steam when Zeller rammed home a Watford miss for a 36-29 lead, but Burke dropped an NBA-length 3-pointer at the buzzer.

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