Heading into Indiana women’s basketball’s matchup with No. 11-seed Princeton University, Indiana Athletics had a mission.
The Hoosiers’ home games averaged 4,398 attendees throughout the regular season. An impressive number, but one that also leaves 12,824 empty seats in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
But now, in the NCAA Tournament, the stakes have never been higher. A win on Monday meant the Hoosiers would be off to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the Sweet Sixteen. One loss and Indiana will stay put in Bloomington until next season.
Either way, Monday was Indiana’s final game at Assembly Hall this season. Might as well send the Hoosiers off or out with a bang.
Indiana Athletics announced yesterday that all student tickets had been purchased by the Athletic Department, meaning students only needed to present their university ID for admission.
Then, this morning, the program’s social media platforms posted a message from Athletic Director Scott Dolson. Donning a suit with a cream and crimson tie while speaking from the balcony of Memorial Stadium, Dolson invited Indiana’s students to attend the game.
“We need all of you there, as many as possible,” Dolson said.
With 40 minutes to go until tipoff, the line for student tickets stretched into the south plaza outside of Assembly Hall. A single file procession filled the plaza with red sweatpants, white jerseys and various other Hoosiers apparel.
The student section itself was mostly filled just 10 minutes later, a swaying sea of red and white ready to cheer its Hoosiers to victory. As for the regular stands? Fans filled seats from the first level to below the two balconies.
In total, 9,627 fans showed up on Monday, good for the third best crowd in program history. Behind the home team’s bench sat a smattering of figures from around Indiana Athletics including Dolson, head football coach Tom Allen with his family and rising senior cornerback Tiawan Mullen, who junior forward Mackenzie Holmes has referred to as “brother.”
Oh, but showing up wasn’t enough. Hoosier fans weren’t just there to sit around and watch. As the starting lineups were announced, and the ball was readied, they stood and let themselves be heard.
But Indiana fans weren’t alone in this one. A small section of orange-clad Princeton fans sat in the bleachers behind their team’s bench. They attempted to do the same, stomping their feet against the wooden bleachers while chanting “defense, defense!” to rally their Tigers.
Hoosier fans didn’t take kindly to that: not in their house. The howls from the cream and crimson drowned out those of the orange, who didn’t stomp their feet again for the remainder of the game.
Their collective voice struck the court and bounced right back up into the stands and around the arena from there. It happened throughout the game. Hoosier fans roared their disapproval of calls from the officials, yelled when Indiana was on defense and cheered during the big plays.
Senior guard Grace Berger weaving through traffic to the basket? Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes forcing her way into the paint? Graduate student guard Ali Patberg stealing the ball off of a bad pass with four seconds to go to secure the win? Key free throws from senior forward Aleksa Gulbe? Indiana’s fans were there for all of it.
In the end, Indiana’s players were there for them too. Holmes ran up the steps of the bleachers after the game with her arms outstretched to accept high fives on the way up and hype up her fellow students on the way down.
“I'm going to go run up, and I'm going to go high-five them and make them feel like they're part of this victory because they are,” Holmes said. “We couldn't have done this without them.”
The crowd let out its loudest roar of the night mere minutes after the final buzzer. As Indiana’s players and staff gathered on the Indiana logo at center court, public address announcer Jeremy Gray announced the team was moving onto the Sweet Sixteen.
At that, Indiana’s players lifted head coach Teri Moren over their heads, taking in the moment with the cream and crimson sea above them.
“Tonight was our crowd willing us to this win,” Moren said. “They're going to share as much in it as we are, and so we are really, really grateful that we had our fans tonight inside the hall.”
Monday’s win proved multiple things for Indiana. First and foremost, this is an incredible team. But a close second? Women’s basketball is an incredible product worthy of crowds like this or greater.
Nights like these should become the norm moving forward. Students tickets were free tonight, but the same can be said of home games throughout the regular season.
This may have been the last game for this particular group of Hoosiers, but there’s many more to come for a program on the rise. And you, as Hoosier fans, have an open invitation to be a part of it.
I suggest you take it.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the day of Indiana's game against Princeton.