INDIANAPOLIS — The IU women’s basketball team had one thing on its mind coming into its first game of the Big Ten Tournament tonight — don’t let history repeat itself.
Not only did the Hoosiers prevent repeating the past two seasons, which were two losses coming in their first games of the tournament, but IU made history while avoiding it.
IU’s 111-109 four-overtime victory over the Michigan State Spartans was the longest game in Big Ten Tournament history.
But what was a historic victory for IU almost wasn’t.
In the final seconds of the first overtime, senior forward Amanda Cahill drove into the lane and missed her shot. There was scrum for the ball, and Spartan sophomore Taryn McCutcheon grabbed the rebound and launched it ahead to sophomore guard Shay Colley.
Colley had to speed up to grab the pass and took two dribbles before shooting up a prayer that she banked in at the buzzer to, it seemed at first, win the game.
However, after Cahill missed her shot, the clock inadvertently stopped with 2.5 seconds to go, something the IU coaching staff noticed immediately. Nonetheless, the stoppage of clock didn’t stop the players. So, as Spartan fans rejoiced in the crowd and the team celebrated on the court, IU patiently waited as the referees went to the scorers' table.
Senior guard Tyra Buss kept asking assistant coach Rhet Wierzba if he was sure the clock stopped, and he told her he was about 90 percent sure. While Buss asked Wierzba, Cahill kept peering over at the scorers' table to read the referee’s lips. With all of the suspense, IU Coach Teri Moren was calm.
“I felt really comfortable with my group on the sidelines,” Moren said. “They clearly knew the clock stopped at 2.5. It was just a matter of time before we found out the official review from the crew.”
It took about three minutes, but the referees called over Moren and Spartan Coach Suzy Merchant to tell them the news. It didn’t take long to find out the final decision because after Moren was told, she turned to the Hoosier fans and clapped her hands. The crowd erupted. There was a new life.
The Hoosiers found themselves down by as much as four in the second overtime, but IU wasn't rattled. Buss found junior forward Kym Royster for an easy layup with two minutes to go and then freshman guard Bendu Yeaney hit a big three to put IU up 89-88. MSU hit one of two free throws, and it was tied again.
It was Spartan ball in the final seconds, and Colley scored with four seconds left. This one didn’t get called back.
Four seconds remained in what could've been the last game of Buss's and Cahill’s careers. Cahill, who finished the game with a career-high 38 points, caught the inbounds pass, turned baseline and hit a layup at the buzzer to force a third overtime.
“We’ve been talking a lot during this week about making this season count the most,” Cahill said. “I’m really proud of my entire team. Everyone stepped up at different times.”
Everyone did step up at different times. In the third overtime with under two minutes to go, freshman guard Jaelynn Penn took a charge and then hit a jumper on the offensive end to put her team up two. Then, with 18 seconds, Yeaney drove and scored to tie the game at 99 to force a fourth overtime.
Royster hit big layup after big layup in the extra periods as she scored 14 points.
Then there was Buss. She struggled all night from the field, shooting just 8-26 from the field and 2-9 from three, but her second three-point shot could not have come at a better time with 40 seconds left in the last overtime. IU was down one when Buss launched the shot. A few seconds later ,they had the advantage, 109-107.
“Definitely didn’t shoot it great in the game, but my mentality is, I got to keep shooting,” Buss said. “I believe in myself, and my teammates believe in me, and it was just a really big shot for us.”
The last points fittingly came from Cahill, as she was fouled with three seconds left and stepped to the line with the game tied at 109.
She made both. The victory was sealed after MSU missed its final shot.
“I didn’t want to think any negative thoughts,” Cahill said on approaching her game-clinching free throws. “I just knew we needed those points.”
Yeaney, Buss and Cahill all said this was the most emotional, up-and-down game they have played in their careers.
Even Moren mentioned afterward that it was all a blur to her as she tried to remember exactly what happened in each overtime.
Even though all the action may have meshed up into a 60-minute blur, IU now has its mind focused on something else — the second-seeded Maryland Terrapins at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow night.