IOWA CITY, Iowa (March 2, 2016) – The final buzzer sounded, and the Hoosiers erupted, leaping from their bench on the sideline to mob one another at midcourt.
Iowa’s last-second shot (a second last-second shot in fact) had fallen short, so Indiana had escaped Carver-Hawkeye Arena with an 81-78 win, securing the outright Big Ten regular season championship.
It should be no surprise Yogi Ferrell found himself at the center of the Hoosiers’ midcourt mob. He’s been the center of IU’s offense for years, starting at point guard ever since he stepped on campus following a stellar prep career at Indianapolis’ Park Tudor. Now, once again, Ferrell had led the way to a victory, scoring a game-high 20 points while going 4-of-8 beyond the three-point line and shelling out five assists.
“It’s special, man,” says Ferrell of the moment, of the championship, and all of it through that smile which is unmistakably his.
“If he’s not an NBA guard with a guaranteed draft spot and contract somewhere, then I’m losing my feel for what basketball is all about, cause I think he’s that good,” says Indiana head coach Tom Crean.
“Yogi’s very special,” adds freshman Thomas Bryant. “There’s no one in the country like him.”
A statement that reads like hyperbole at first seems more accurate with a little research. Against Iowa, Ferrell became just the second player in Big Ten history to record 1,800 points, 600 assists, and 400 rebounds in his career (Dee Brown, Illinois).
“He came in a champion,” says Crean. “He helped us win a championship his first year, and right now he’s got one as a senior. I’d say that’s pretty remarkable.”
As critical as Ferrell’s performance was to the Hoosiers’ win in Iowa City, he had plenty of help from some unlikely candidates. With Indiana in foul trouble early in both halves, freshmen OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan saw increased playing time, combining for 38 minutes, 11 points, and 11 rebounds.
“OG and Juwan played like monsters,” says Ferrell. “For them to be freshmen and to play the way they played, I’d say they’re the MVPs of this game.”
Additionally off the bench, Max Bielfeldt added eight points in 16 minutes while Harrison Niego also filled in for seven minutes of action. Even with a plethora of playing time spread through nine players, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery praised the Hoosiers as “selfless”, lauding their ability to share the basketball on offense.
“I don’t think we win a championship without that (unity),” says Crean. “They have tremendous confidence in each other. I like to think I have tremendous confidence in those guys (coming off the bench), and if they’re in the game, they need to impact the game.”
The bench certainly made a large impact Tuesday night, but its impact was still eclipsed by Ferrell’s. He captained the offense with his game-high 20 points, provided a clutch three-pointer with 0:38 to play (it wound up being the difference in the game), and also shut down Iowa’s Peter Jok on defense. The Hawkeye guard scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, and failed to reach double-digits in points for the first time since January 5, snapping a 13-game streak.
“(My teammates) see the way I play on the court,” says Ferrell. “I play hard. They always say they’re gonna go as I go.”
“He brings his experience and his knowledge to his teammates,” says Crean. “He makes the game easier for his teammates.
“I love him to death. To be part of (Yogi’s career) and watch him grow is fantastic.”