A red and teary-eyed Race Thompson got through one sentence of his senior night speech Wednesday before he choked up and put his head down.
The senior forward looked back at his parents, Darrell and Stephanie Thompson, who flanked each side of the framed No. 25 jersey which stood on the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall floor in his honor. He gathered his composure and delivered the rest of his speech, thanking head coach Mike Woodson, his teammates and the Hoosier fans who stuck around for the festivities.
"Y'all my brothers for life,” Thompson said to his teammates.
Even after a 66-63 loss to Rutgers, an important game for Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes with it on the bubble, the Hoosier fans who remained roared and gave a standing ovation in support of the senior Thompson.
Thompson redshirted his first season at Indiana, then became a key contributor on the 2019-20 team which would have gone to the NCAA Tournament before the basketball world stopped due to COVID-19. Finally, he became a double-double machine on this year’s team.
Thompson has started all 56 games for Indiana the last two seasons. The only other Hoosier to do that is his buddy-ball partner and All-Big Ten performer, junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
“Race is my guy,” Jackson-Davis said. “To see him maybe playing his last game here, I mean, we were trying to pull for him … We were sad for him, and my heart hurts for him.”
Thompson’s scoring and rebounding numbers have shot up the last two seasons, going from a role player with 3.5 point and 3.8 rebounds per game in the 2019-20 season to being Indiana’s second-leading scorer and rebounder at 11.9 and 7.7 per game, respectively. Jackson-Davis leads the team in both categories.
Thompson and Jackson-Davis started the game hot and combined for Indiana’s first 16 points Wednesday on the way to a 7-point lead at the end of the first half. However, in a tale too common for them in their time at Indiana, they couldn’t will their team to a win in the final minutes.
Thompson was recognized alongside senior guard Parker Stewart, who struggled from the field Wednesday night but made a game-tying shot with 10 seconds left to play. Rutgers senior forward Ron Harper Jr. sealed the game with 2.1 to play with a 3-point dagger over Thompson.
“It hurts because you want to win for Race and then Parker, this is a special night for those guys,” Woodson said. “I remember 43 years ago, man, today playing my last game in this building and winning a Big Ten title. I wanted nothing more for them to at least experience winning on senior night, and we fell short.”
Stewart’s route to senior night was almost the complete opposite of Thompson’s. While Thompson spent five years with the program, working his way up from role player to key contributor, Stewart had already done the rounds in Division I college basketball when he arrived at Indiana.
He started his career at the University of Pittsburgh, scoring 9.1 points per game in his freshman season in 2017-18. However, his late father, Anthony, was hired as head coach at the University of Tennessee at Martin and Stewart followed him there, scoring 19.2 points per game.
This season with Indiana, Stewart’s third school in five years, he has been a consistent starter and knockdown 3-point shooter at points in the season. Stewart opted for a recorded video rather than a speech during senior night, in which he talked about his journey to Indiana and the support he received after losing his father.
While Thompson and Stewart gave speeches, every Hoosier on the team has at least one more year of eligibility and none have decided definitively to return or leave. During his speech, Woodson said he feels responsible for all his “sons,” regardless of what they decide to do.
“I’m obligated — whatever these guys decide to do when they leave here — to help them,” Woodson said.
Thompson and Stewart’s Indiana careers may be done at Assembly Hall, but they have at least two more games between the regular season and Big Ten Tournament. The next time they take the court will be against Purdue at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana.