Screeching. Chanting. Heckling. Floating chairs, balloons and a banana suit.
All would be present at any Indiana women’s basketball game, but they stood out just a bit more in Thursday night’s game against Minnesota. Due to inclement weather, Indiana Athletics limited attendance to “essential personnel” — simply put, most fans weren’t allowed in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The few present for Indiana’s 80-70 win over Minnesota included coaches, officials, family, members of the press and photographers. The Big Red Basketball Band was nowhere to be seen, cheerleaders were absent and the officiating crew was left to mop up the court when necessary.
Somehow also present were 20 members of Indiana’s student section, the Crimson Guard. While they weren’t supposed to be inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, they were ultimately able to walk right in and provide a welcome surprise for the Hoosiers.
“I’m not really even sure how they got in,” senior guard Grace Berger said. “I didn’t think they were allowed. Definitely a pleasant little surprise when we walked out.”
The Hoosiers entered Thursday’s matchup at Assembly Hall after their first Big Ten loss to Michigan looking for a bounceback game surrounded by hometown fans. Those hopes took a blow following the announcement from Indiana Athletics, but it didn’t completely faze the Hoosiers.
“It’s nothing that’s necessarily foreign to us because all last year we played Big Ten games without any fans,” Berger said. “Once you get between the lines and the balls tip, I think you’re just focused on the game.”
Minnesota led for much of the game and was able to match most of Indiana’s energy, and it took until midway through the fourth quarter for Indiana to settle into a comfortable lead. With under six minutes remaining, Indiana went on a 18-3 run and held Minnesota scoreless for the last four-and-a-half minutes.
Senior forward Aleksa Gulbe finished with a career-high 28 points and went 4-4 from beyond the arc. Berger recorded her fourth career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and she came two assists short of a triple-double.
While Indiana’s play on the court wavered throughout the game, at times faltering on both offense and defense, the constant inside Assembly Hall was the energy from the 20-person crowd.
Ranging from blood-curdling screams during Golden Gopher free throws to sprints along the sidelines, from the raising of chairs in the air to shouts of the wrong countdown on the shot clock, the minimal student section provided an outside source of energy for the Hoosiers to draw from. And in the end, that was all they needed.
“We missed Hoosier nation, but we’re so grateful for those guys and gals,” head coach Teri Moren said. “So instrumental here, inside Assembly Hall, and so (we’re) really grateful.”
Indiana went on a miniature scoring run in the second quarter, scoring 6 unanswered points to take the lead. As Minnesota called a timeout to regroup, chants of “Rattled, Rattled,” echoed through the hall.
Berger said while much of the team’s energy had to come from within, the fans were a contributing factor throughout the game, specifically as the Hoosiers started their fourth-quarter run.
“They definitely brought us some energy,” Berger said. “Especially when we were losing a little bit in the third and fourth quarter. They definitely gave us energy that helped us push to a win.”
After the clock ran out, the tradition of the crowd singing the alma mater to the team was carried out by the student section, who sang a cappella aided by lyrics scribbled on easel pad paper.
Indiana’s next game is against Purdue at 1 p.m. Sunday at Assembly Hall. Weather permitting, the stands will be full again, with a whole lot more than 20 people cheering on their home team.