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November 29, 2012

BASKETBALL: No. 1 Indiana rolls past No. 14 UNC

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — No. 1 Indiana had something to prove Tuesday night - that it could play defense.

Just two days after the Hoosiers put together their best game this season, they delivered an even more impressive performance, getting 20 points from Cody Zeller and 19 each from Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo, running away from No. 14 North Carolina 83-59 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

"Our guys played great basketball tonight,'' coach Tom Crean said. "We played against an incredible opponent, everybody understands how great North Carolina is. Our guys had an edge to them tonight, and it was on the defensive end as much as anything else.''

The conventional wisdom is that the Hoosiers (7-0) are one of the nation's top scoring teams.

But the detractors have questioned Indiana's willingness to defend and some have even suggested that weakness has allowed No. 2 Duke to close the gap on the nation's top-ranked team.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams disagrees.

"I think they are,'' he said when asked whether Indiana deserved to be No. 1. "The thing I like about them is they really are a team. They don't have one guy that beats you up, they beat you so many different ways.''

Williams and the Tar Heels (5-2) learned that lesson the hard way in Bloomington.

In the second half, the Tar Heels shot just 27.8 percent from the field and went 0 for 5 from 3-point range. They were outscored 12-8 on the fast break, an area that had caused so much concern for Crean that he lost sleep leading up to the game.

"I know people criticize us for our defense, and they say `If they can't play defense, how good can they really be?''' Oladipo said.

Offensively, the Hoosiers were their usual balanced selves.

Zeller was 8 of 13 from the field with four blocks, one steal and an assist. Oladipo and Sheehey were both 8 of 12 from the field. Senior guard Jordan Hulls was 5 of 8, including three 3-pointers, and finished with 13 points, eight assists and two steals.

"It's cool,'' Oladipo said when asked about beating a program like North Carolina this handily. "I mean, we've been working really hard and you guys know as well as I know that this program, well not last year, but over the last couple of years was really struggling and we wanted to get it back to where it belongs, which is on top. So to get a win like that, it's a humbling experience.''

The best thing about this game for North Carolina may be the end of its run against teams from the Hoosier State.

A week ago, North Carolina trailed by 29 points in the second half before falling 82-71 to two-time national runner-up Butler.

On Tuesday, it was almost an instant replay.

Indiana closed the first half fast, started the second half fast and spent the rest of the game pulling away. The Hoosiers' biggest lead, 83-51, came with 4:22 left in the game.

Dexter Strickland led the Tar Heels with 14 points, Marcus Paige had 11 and James Michael McAdoo had 10 points and nine rebounds for North Carolina, which was missing sophomore guard P.J. Hairston, who stayed home with a sprained left knee.

There was a bigger problem, though. North Carolina couldn't figure out how to contain Zeller, one of this season's favorites to be the national player of the year.

"Boy, I would love to watch them play if it wasn't against my team,'' Williams said. "You look down the lineup and Cody Zeller, he's family to begin with, he's really a load to handle, and two other guys that I didn't even hear of when they were in high school, they just kicked our rear ends.''

The game pitting two of the country's most storied programs - which have combined for 10 national titles and 3,767 wins - had been billed as one of this season's showcase events. For 16 minutes, it lived up to the hype.

Zeller changed everything with two flurries.

By setting high picks and drawing post players outside, it opened up the lanes for his cutting and slashing teammates who wasted no time exploiting the holes in the Carolina defense, using a 15-6 run at the end of the first half to take a 46-37 halftime lead.

The Hoosiers were only getting started.

"If you let them dictate and control the pace of the game, they're going to win,'' Crean said. "So we had to control and dictate the pace of the game, and to do that, we had to run.''

But in the second half, the Hoosiers were out to prove something else - that they could defend.

Over the first 8 1/2 minutes, North Carolina managed only three points, the tip-in and a free throw.

Zeller and Oladipo, meanwhile, combined for seven points in the opening 13-0 blitz that put Indiana ahead 59-37, and North Carolina never challenged again as the Hoosiers won their 34th consecutive home game in November against a team that was supposed to cause havoc.

"It's a huge statement,'' Sheehey said. "We prepared for this game for a couple of weeks now and that's about it. You saw the score. We played hard, we played well, we played together and when we do that, stuff is going to happen.''

 

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