BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Christian Watford started strong Thursday night.
His finishing kick could still use a little polish.
The guy who beat No. 1 Kentucky with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer missed a free throw with 2.9 seconds left, then held his breath until Michigan's desperation heave bounced high off the backboard to give No. 12 Indiana a 73-71 victory over the 16th-ranked Wolverines.
"He's got a serious focus and intensity combined right now that he just continues to harness," coach Tom Crean said, referring to Watford. "It really started to take shape back in April when we got back from Spring Break, and he hasn't been the same player since. He's lighting his own fire."
The Hoosiers (14-1, 2-1 Big Ten) have won 11 straight at Assembly Hall and three times over ranked foes — their highest season total since beating four Top 25 teams in 2005-06. The 14 wins are already a season best for Crean, who in his fourth season in Bloomington.
And Watford has had a huge hand in the remarkable turnaround.
He hit the winner against the nation's No. 1 team in mid-December, sealed Saturday's victory over No. 2 Ohio State with two free throws in the closing seconds and had the most complete game of his three-year career against Michigan (12-3, 2-1).
Watford led the Hoosiers with 25 points and seven rebounds, but it wasn't the numbers that jumped out. It was the way he did it.
Watford was 8 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, made 6 of 8 free throws and had four assists. Cody Zeller had 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, and Verdell Jones scored six of his eight points in the critical closing stretch for Indiana.
It was impressive to their toughest critic.
"I thought you had to recruit for grit and you had to recruit someone with grit," Crean said. "But I've learned with these guys that grit can be developed and grit can come out. Verdell Jones and Christian Watford are developing grit. And Cody Zeller came with it. They are playing with it."