By Justin Albers
For The Herald Bulletin
DAYTON, Ohio —
Last season, Christian Watford’s 3-pointer to beat No. 1 Kentucky brought the Indiana basketball program back. You can’t go anywhere in Bloomington without seeing a photo of that shot.
As wild and far-fetched as it may sound, Watford made an even bigger play on Sunday afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena.
Watford’s blocked shot of Temple’s Anthony Lee and the rebound that followed helped Indiana prevail 58-52 in the third round of the NCAA tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 in Washington D.C. on Thursday.
“Christian wants to win, and his leadership showed through,” said Indiana assistant coach Tim Buckley. “He may not be the most vocal guy, but he has that fire that burns inside. He had to make a winning play, and that’s what he did.”
With two minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the game and the top-seeded Hoosiers trailing nine-seed Temple 52-50, the Owls’ Khalif Wyatt drove to the right baseline. Wyatt had been burning the Hoosiers all day — he finished with 31 points — so Cody Zeller left his man and doubled Wyatt on a pick and roll.
That left Lee wide open, and Wyatt found him cutting to the basket. Lee could have put the Owls up four with a layup, but Watford rotated over from the other side of the floor, jumped from behind Lee and blocked the shot.
“I was on the weak side, and I was kind of pushed up too much,” Watford said. “Wyatt put enough air on the ball for me to get it. I got in at the end and challenged the shot, and I blocked him.”
After Lee got his own rebound and missed a shot attempt, Watford corralled the rebound with only his right arm. The Owls wouldn’t score another point.
“That was the biggest play of the game, and Christian can do that,” said Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell. “When he blocked that ball and got that one-arm rebound, I even said, ‘Wow, that was something spectacular.’”
Senior guard Jordan Hulls went even a step further.
“Biggest play of the year,” he said. “We’re moving on because of that.”
When Watford hit the 3-pointer to beat Kentucky last year, it became the signature moment in Indiana’s season. A photo of that shot was printed on the popcorn boxes at Assembly Hall for this season.
Watford’s play on Sunday may go down as this season’s signature moment. The Hoosiers’ season was hanging in the balance, and Watford saved it.
The Indiana senior was asked after the game if his block was bigger than the shot from last year. He didn’t hesitate.
“Without a doubt,” Watford said. “I don’t know if they’re gonna have a lot of pictures and stuff like they did with the shot, but we’ll see.”
Added Indiana coach Tom Crean: “Think you can sell as many pictures of that?”