DAYTON – Christian Watford started a two-minute sequence that saved Indianas season Sunday.
The forward came from behind to block Temple forward Anthony Lees open layup then corralled a one-handed rebound. That started a game-winning spurt which saw the No. 1 seeded Hoosiers score eight straight points to defeat the No. 9 seeded Owls 58-52 in the third round of the NCAA tournament at University of Dayton Arena.
Lee was wide open but I saw it at the last minute and was able to get there to contest his shot, Watford said. That was a big rebound, we definitely needed that.
Watford came from the left side of the key to get the block as Indianas Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo converged on Temples Khalif Wyatt in the right corner.
The guard lobbed the ball to Lee in the middle of the lane. Lee had a second chance to increase the Owls 52-50 lead with 2:14 to play but he missed a layup.
I thought I was wide open, said Lee, who had 10 points. I didnt feel nobody coming behind me. I thought it was an easy two points. And then I got it back. I should have dunked it in there. But unfortunately I didnt.
IU (29-6), which scored the final 10 points to erase a 52-48 deficit with 3:09 to play, tied the game at 52 with a pair of Zeller free throws with 1:51 to play. Zeller finished with 15 points.
After Wyatt missed a three-pointer, Oladipo drew a foul on the Temple guard at midcourt to go to the free-throw line with 1:19 to play. Oladipo missed his first free throw but made his second to give Indiana a 53-52 lead.
It was the first time the Hoosiers held the lead since being up 24-22 with 3:31 left in the first half.
After a Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson airball, Oladipo delivered a dagger three-pointer with 15 seconds to play for a 56-52 lead, and Watford tacked on two free throws with five seconds left to ensure Indiana would advance to the Sweet 16 for a second year in a row.
I was just open, and I shot it, said Oladipo, who had 16 points and was named a finalist for the Naismith mens College Player of the Year. I just caught it and shot it. I didnt think about it.
Indiana will play No. 4 seed Syracuse (28-9) in the East Regional semifinals Thursday in Washington, D.C. The Orange reached the round of 32 with a 66-60 win over No. 12 seed California (21-12) on Saturday.
Its more relief, Indiana coach Tom Crean said of advancing. Its not relief because we dodged a bullet and feel pressure about whats in front of you. Its more relief because we finally got through. This is the biggest thing for me personally.
Indiana overcame a dazzling performance by Wyatt, who played with an injured left thumb.
The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year scored 20 of his game-high 31 points in the first half and erased a 20-11 first-half deficit with nine straight points to tie the game with 6:09 left in the first half.
Nothing speeds him (Wyatt) up, Oladipo said. It doesnt matter who you put on him. Hes going to play at the same pace. Thats why hes such a good guard.
The Hoosiers survived having Zeller and Hulls for limited minutes in the first half.
Zeller played 10 minutes after picking up his second foul with 6:51 left in the first, and Hulls went to the locker room with injured right shoulder with 6:58 to play in the half. The Owls (24-10) led 29-26 at halftime.
Hulls returned in the second half wearing a protective harness on his shoulders and a bandage on his right shoulder. He finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting.
We just werent ready to go home, said Hulls, who set the record for games played at IU with his 134th appearance.