Hoosiers can't get it done on Senior Night, but seniors can still be proud
It was more than simply honoring the seniors in their final home appearance, however. It is likely that it was the final game at Assembly Hall for non-seniors and player of the year candidates Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, both of whom will likely be moving on to the NBA. It was also a chance for the Hoosiers to clinch sole ownership of the Big Ten regular season title.
But perhaps all of those storylines and all of the emotion of the evening got the best of the Hoosiers. The crowd of over 17,000 showed up in full force, but the team did not. They did not play well. Victor Oladipo got into early foul trouble and then appeared to force the issue with poor shots and ill-advised passes in his worst outing of the season. The Hoosiers let Aaron Kraft light them up and hit big shot after big shot. Back-up Evan Ravenal for the Buckeyes 'out-physicalled' Cody Zeller for much of the night. Freshman Yogi Ferrell played like a freshman. Tom Crean was out-coached by Thad Matta. The Hoosiers shot a measly 39% from the field and gave the ball away 12 times.
It was a physical and close game starting from the tip-off. The Buckeyes held the Hoosiers to their lowest first half point total of the year and it was only the second time Indiana trailed at the half, 25-28. Oladipo finally got his first field goal of the game to open up the second half and tied the game at 28. From then on it was a back and forth battle with neither team giving an inch until around the five minute mark. Then Aaron Kraft hit a couple of tough, off-balance runners to put the Buckeyes up by four points. Deshaun Thomas, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball, hit a couple of free throws to push the lead to six. Thomas went on to hit what could be considered the dagger, from beyond the arc with 4:24 remaining in the game. This pushed the lead to nine for Ohio State. Indiana never pulled to within six after that. The final score was Ohio State on top, 67-58.
But the night was bigger than the game alone. It was a chance for the fans to show their appreciation to the seniors who have played a large role in Indiana’s recent reemergence as a nationally recognized program.
The senior class of Derek Elston, Jordy Hulls, and Christian Watford arrived in Bloomington at a time when the Hoosiers had hit rock bottom. It was a team still reeling from the harsh sanctions that Kelvin Sampson had brought on from his short tenure at Indiana. The year before these three arrived was Tom Crean’s first year. It was a year in which the team ended with a record of 6-25, with only one win against a Big Ten team. Their freshman year wasn’t much better in terms of overall record (10-21 with four Big Ten victories), but you could begin to see a few sparks of life in the young team.
The wins weren’t coming in droves, but the culture was changing. They were playing hard and competing. Even though opposing teams knew that they had to stop Hulls and Watford as the main offensive weapons, they found ways to score and compete. Both will end up among the top scorers in Indiana history, with Watford currently at #11 and as the active all-time leading point scorer in the Big Ten. Hulls is currently second all-time in threes made for the Hoosiers.
They had begun to right the ship, and the momentum they created along with additions such as Zeller, Sheehey, Oladipo, and most recently Ferrell, helped the Hoosiers to shoot up the rankings and deep into the NCAA tournament their junior year. This year as seniors, they have spent most of the season as the number one ranked team in the country – a spot that comes with a huge target for opposing teams. They have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title and could still win it outright. They will likely be the favorites in the tough Big Ten tournament. They currently have their sights set on a number one overall seed for the NCAA Tournament and expect to make a deep run into the tournament. It’s difficult to name a clear-cut favorite from this year’s field, but the Hoosiers are certainly among the first to be mentioned.
Despite the disappointing loss on senior night and the missed opportunity to clinch the Big Ten title outright, the senior class should be proud of what they have done in their tenure at Indiana. They took a pitiful Indiana team with little hope, to a team that has spent most of this year as the number one ranked squad in the country. Of course, they would love to end the year in storybook fashion as NCAA Champions – that still remains to be seen. But regardless of whether that happens, they have reinvigorated an historic basketball program. Their commitment, dedication, hard work, and achievements should not be overlooked. They have laid the foundation for Indiana to be a relevant team for years to come.