EVANSTON, Ill. -- Indiana tried to make a case to reclaim college basketball's top ranking as Cody Zeller collected 21 points and 13 rebounds in a 67-59 Big Ten victory over Northwestern on Sunday.
The Hoosiers, the nation's top scoring team, were nearly 20 points below their season average but successfully limited a late Wildcats surge as they bounced back from a midweek loss to Wisconsin.
Jordan Hulls scored 15 points and Christian Watford added 14 in front of 8,117 predominately pro-Hoosier fans in sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Coming off last Thursday's victory at No. 23 Illinois, Northwestern (11-8, 2-4) had a game-high 22 points from Reggie Hearn, 13 from Jared Swopshire and 11 from Tre Demps.
The No. 2 Hoosiers (16-2, 4-1) have a shot at No. 1 in the major polls after Syracuse toppled top-ranked Louisville on Saturday in a Big East clash. But ascension back to the top spot they held to start the season is hardly guaranteed.
Upset-minded Northwestern, seeking back-to-back wins over ranked teams for only the second time in school history, cut a 14-point halftime deficit to five in the final two minutes.
Leading 58-53 with 91 seconds left in regulation, Hulls added a cushion with a jumper and Watford hit a free throw in the next 33 seconds for a 61-53 lead.
The Hoosiers trailed only briefly and claimed a lead for good with 17:48 left in the first half when Victor Oladipo's rebound tip in made it 5-4.
Watford had eight points as Indiana led 15-8 after eight minutes. But at the 10:56 mark and Indiana leading 17-9, the game went into a standstill for the next 3:10.
The Hoosiers missed four shots and had two turnovers. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had two misses and three turnovers.
Zeller broke the drought with a tip-in with 7:31 left in the half for a 19-9 lead and Indiana outscored Northwestern the rest of the way for a 31-17 halftime lead.
Watford topped all scorers with 11 first-half points, including two 3-pointers. The Wildcats had no scorers in double figures and missed 8 of 9 shots from beyond the arc.
NOTES: While Indiana leads the series 111-48, Northwestern has the upper hand in recent seasons with six wins in the last nine meetings. Sunday's win was the Hoosiers' first in Evanston in five games. ... Indiana came into the game leading the nation in scoring average (85.4 points), scoring differential (24.8 points) and free throws (349). The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team with five players averaging in double figures. ... Playing in his first season, Wildcats graduate student Jared Swopshire has started every game and was averaging 11.8 points entering Sunday. ... Both teams resume Big Ten play Wednesday with No. 9 Minnesota at Northwestern while Penn State travels to Indiana.