The first season under a new head coach. A promising start under a non-conference schedule. A suspension-laden loss to Northwestern and the streak that followed. Last minute heartbreakers to Rutgers and Purdue.
A need-to-win game against Michigan, a comeback for the ages. A bid-cementing victory over Illinois, lockdown defense down the stretch. A last second loss to Iowa, but hope on the horizon.
A Selection Sunday surprise, a trip to Dayton. A win over Wyoming and then onto Portland. Five games in eight days. Two hundred minutes of college basketball, with a flight delay as the cherry on top.
It all came to an end on Thursday night in Portland.
Indiana men’s basketball fell to No. 5-seed Saint Mary’s 82-53 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers were simply gassed, the forwards unable to muster enough fight for rebounds and the guards losing their downhill speed as the game dragged on. Head coach Mike Woodson and the Hoosiers certainly weren’t going to use that as an excuse though.
“I’ve never been a coach that makes excuses,” Woodson said in a postgame press conference. “I know we’re a much better team than we showed tonight, and that’s on me.”
But the Hoosiers’ fatigue was simply obvious. Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett, whose own team hadn’t played since March 8, was quick to point it out.
“It’s hard to guard us if you can’t get a prep on us, and then we were able to get a prep on them,” Bennett said. “So if you’re wondering if rest versus playing however many games they did in a short amount of time and flying across the country, there’s no question it’s an advantage to be resting.”
Indiana was able to stay in the game for the first twelve minutes. Then Saint Mary’s took a lead on a 3-pointer with seven minutes to go in the first half. Woodson subbed in three of Indiana’s starters a minute later, and the Gaels never looked back from there.
The starters were in a hole due to a cold spell from the bench, and they managed only 6 points from the field with what was left of the first half. Meanwhile, the Gaels scored 15 points during that same stretch.
But a 29-point loss? There has to be some aberration, something more than simple scoring. It can partially be explained by points scored off of turnovers.
The Hoosiers turned the ball over 13 times to the Gaels’ 10. But the Gaels scored 26 points off of those turnovers, good for 2 points each turnover, to the Hoosiers’ 8. Saint Mary’s had the energy to do so, getting down the court and setting up plays before Indiana could counter.
Indiana just couldn’t do the same, the Hoosiers lacked the energy to make it happen.
“We’ve been really, really good on the defensive end of the floor, and tonight we just didn’t have it,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We didn’t have the spark. We were letting guys dribble, drive past us, screen and rolls, open layups, and just not being tough at the rim.”
The 29-point loss is the worst margin of defeat the Hoosiers have ever seen in NCAA Tournament play, but the reason was obvious. A loss like that leads to plenty of fans scratching their heads, but there is the bigger picture to consider.
Unlike this time last year, Indiana has a head coach. Not only that, but he took members of that same roster and a few transfer portal additions to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. Indiana’s first bid to the Big Dance since 2016.
There are a few things to work out, with players having the decision to move on to a post-basketball life or the NBA, but that’s a discussion for a later time.
The sun will rise in Bloomington tomorrow, and it’ll do so over a men’s basketball program in better shape than it’s been in years.
“I know it’s not how we wanted to go out, but it’s an honor and blessing to be here,” Jackson-Davis said. “I’m proud of my guys for always fighting, and that’s probably my favorite part.”