Seniors sent off on Georgia Dome Stage
ATLANTA – All journeys must come to an end.
For the five seniors on the IU men’s basketball team, that journey ended Friday night.
IU’s 102-90 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 marked not only the end of the 2011-12 campaign, but the end of five collegiate careers.
“I can’t even say how it feels,” IU senior guard Matt Roth said. “We were living the dream. For it to come to an end, it hurts. There’s not a better group of guys in the country that you could put around us.”
IU’s senior class went out with 27 wins in 2011-12, which was one win short of the total amount of victories they had in their first three seasons. IU senior forward Kory Barnett said improvement doesn’t chase the pain of defeat.
“We’re the hardest working team in the country,” Barnett said. “We have been the last four years, there’s no doubt in mind. To not be the last one standing almost feels like we got shorted.”
This season lasted two weeks longer than any of the three seasons in the Crean era. IU senior guard Daniel Moore said it’s hard to process the fact that the ride is over.
“It’s been such a special season and four years,” Moore said. “It sucks that it has to end right now.”
While four of IU’s seniors suited up for the final time Friday night, senior guard Verdell Jones had already played his final minutes in the cream and crimson.
Jones tore his ACL in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in IU’s 75-58 win against Penn State on March 8. But Jones said the loss to Kentucky was harder to swallow than any injury.
“It’s one of the worst feelings in the world right now,” Jones said. “I’m more upset now than I was with my ACL. It’s over.”
Barnett said watching Jones have to miss out on IU’s postseason run was tough.
“The most painful part is to know what (Jones) is going through, how hard he fought, all he did and to not be able to step on that court and play in an NCAA game,” Barnett said.
But IU played in three NCAA Tournament games. It went further than any IU squad since the 2001-02 National Championship runner-up team.
The IU seniors did play their final game in front of 24,731 in the Georgia Dome against the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“This is what I dreamed of my whole life, playing basketball at this level, in this atmosphere, the success we had, the group of guys we had,” Roth said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Only one team out of the field of 68 in the NCAA Tournament gets to end its season in triumph. Sixty-seven others go home earlier than they wanted to.
In order for IU to avoid being part of that group of 67, it would’ve had to beat a Kentucky team that came in not only as 10-point favorites but as favorites to win the national title.
Barnett said watching the rest of the tournament will be difficult because IU could have still been playing.
“Coach (Crean) made a good point that the sadness comes when you knew you left something behind,” Barnett said.
What these five seniors left behind was different than any that paved the way before them. None of them were in the starting lineup Friday night. None of them recorded a point in their final collegiate game.
But what this group of student-athletes did to revive IU basketball is something Barnett said he’ll always take with him.
“For the rest of my life, we’re always going to have the fact that we were the foundation here for Coach Crean, for this team and hopefully in the future for many banners and victories to come,” Barnett said. “To be able to be those five, we we’re blessed.”
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