“I don’t want it to end,” Indiana Coach Tom Crean said. “I really don’t. I love being around these guys. They’re as smart, cerebral, tough-minded as any group I’ve been around.”
For Oladipo, a DeMatha product and native of Upper Marlboro, the game amounts to a homecoming.
“It’s going to be fun playing in front of family and friends and all that. But it’s a business trip,” Oladipo said. “We’re on a mission.”
While the Indiana roster might boast more future NBA players, it was Temple senior Khalif Wyatt who created a buzz around the arena early. He finished the game with 31 points — giving him 62 in two tournament games — and almost single-handedly endangered Indiana’s title hopes.
“He’s one of the toughest matchups I’ve ever had,” said Oladipo, the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year.
Two days after his scoring outburst in an opening-round win over North Carolina State, Wyatt somehow upped his scoring tempo in the early stages.
He scored 20 points in the first 20 minutes, shooting 8 of 13 from the field and accounting for all but nine of Temple’s points.
“This is as tough a team as we’ve faced all year long,” Crean said.
The Hoosiers were not grabbing rebounds, struggling behind the three-point arc and not quick enough in transition. The Owls closed the opening half with an 18-6 run and held a 29-26 halftime advantage.
Coming out of the break, the Hoosiers made just one field goal in the first five minutes as Wyatt and the Owls clung to a five-point lead. But momentum shifted quickly when Oladipo hit a layup, stole the ball from Wyatt and brought Hoosiers fans to their feet with a big dunk that trimmed the Temple lead to one.
Indiana, a tenacious defensive team, had more luck controlling Wyatt in the second half.
After hitting a layup 25 seconds into the second half, the Temple guard was held scoreless for the next nine minutes.
While both offenses struggled to find their rhythm, there were still some haymakers. With 6:50 remaining, Indiana reserve Will Sheehey hit a three-pointer to tie the score. But the Owls pulled back on top just 18 seconds later when Wyatt drilled a three-pointer.
The teams traded baskets and Jordan Hulls hit a jumper with 2:55 remaining to cut the Owls’ lead to 52-50. On the other end, Anthony Lee went up for a dunk attempt that was blocked by Indiana’s Christian Watford.
Zeller sank a pair of free throws, and Oladipo hit the second of two free throw attempts at the 1:19 mark to give the Hoosiers their first lead of the second half, 53-52.
“Our guys, in the second half, they never wavered on the belief that they could and would win the game,” Crean said.
Watford then got a piece of a Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson shot for Temple, and on the other end Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell swung the ball around to an open Oladipo at the top of the key.
The three-pointer gave the Hoosiers a 56-52 lead and punched Indiana’s ticket to the next round.
The shot was smooth, and Oladipo said he didn’t have time to think about what was at stake.
“I think that’s when I struggle,” he said, “when I think about shots.”
The Hoosiers scored the game’s final 10 points and held the Owls scoreless for the last three minutes. With Oladipo in his face much of the time, Wyatt was held without a field goal for the final 61
“They pretty much took me out of the game,” Wyatt said.
The Hoosiers return to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season. Last March they lost to Kentucky, the eventual national champion, in Indiana’s only other Sweet 16 appearance since its run to the national title game in 2002. Players say they’re still driven by memories of last year’s early exit, which is why any celebration over Sunday’s win against the Owls was subdued.
“We know how this feels,” said Oladipo, who scored a team-high 16 points and had eight rebounds. “We know how it feels to be Sweet 16. But we want way more than that.”