Indiana men’s basketball’s NCAA Tournament run came to an end Thursday night with a 82-53 loss in its First Round matchup against No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s College. After a journey full of ups and downs in head coach Mike Woodson’s first season back at his alma mater, the Hoosiers posted a 21-14 overall record in 2021-22.
“It just means we've got to go back and get busy this summer and get better,” Woodson said. “It was a great run for our ball club this season getting back to the Big Dance, and now we've got to build on it for the future.”
The Hoosiers ended their season with a stretch of five games in eight days dating back to March 10, the beginning of their Big Ten Tournament run. Wins over Michigan and Illinois were enough to get the Hoosiers into March Madness, but they were dealt an unfavorable hand by the selection committee in the form of an extra game — the First Four play-in.
Just before midnight local time on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, Indiana advanced into the First Round with a win over University of Wyoming. This left the Hoosiers with less than 40 hours to get to Portland, Oregon, and plan for Saint Mary’s.
Whether it be the congested schedule or having to face one of the best teams in their region, the No. 12 seed Hoosiers looked disoriented on offense and unprepared for the questions Saint Mary’s guards asked of their defense in the blowout.
“Tonight we just didn't have it,” junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We didn't have the spark. We were letting guys dribble, drive past us, screen and rolls, open layups, and just not being tough at the rim. Tonight they really dictated to us, and we didn't punch back.”
Woodson made no excuses for his team before or after Thursday’s matchup. The Hoosier players seemingly fed off this approach against the Gaels in the opening 10 minutes, getting by on the sheer momentum from their first NCAA Tournament win in six years.
The teams traded baskets in that span and the Hoosiers held a 18-14 advantage, but their ideas on offense ran thin from there. The Gaels closed out the first half on a 26-10 run, which first got going against a full Hoosier bench rotation that saw extended time due to the starters’ tired legs. Indiana shot 4-16 in that time after starting 7-11 from the field.
Jackson-Davis and senior guard Xavier Johnson were the only two Hoosier players in double figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively. The duo found a strong bond over Indiana’s recent stretch of games through a dangerous pick-and-roll scheme, which led to most of the team’s success in the opening minutes against Saint Mary’s. Sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo shined in relief of the starters again, posting 9 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Facing a 12-point deficit at halftime, the Hoosiers’ fortunes on offense never took a turn for the better. The Gaels’ sophisticated half-court defense forced the Hoosiers into giving up 13 turnovers and putting up too many contested shots to come back from.
By the time Indiana made its first field goal of the second half — over six minutes in — Saint Mary's lead had grown to 22. The Gaels’ went ahead by as many as 34 points, and no Hoosier player scored more than 6 points in the second half as the team shot 34% from the field on the night.
On the other end, Saint Mary’s run was built on excellent shooting and guard play. The upperclassmen starting guard trio of Logan Johnson, Tommy Kuhse and Alex Ducas picked apart Indiana’s defense with 52 points on 7-13 shooting from beyond the arc.
Indiana’s First Round loss — the largest in the program’s history in the NCAA Tournament — stung on many levels for fans and the veteran group of Hoosier players who had become used to suffering for so long without a March Madness appearance.
But a national championship was never a reasonable expectation in Woodson’s first year of coaching at the collegiate level, and he’s already achieved his goal of making it back to the national stage. Woodson said he and the program couldn’t have made it back to this point without those who trusted in him most.
“I have nothing but love for the 17 players that I coached this season because they put this program back in the fold,” Woodson said. “They made a commitment to let me coach them, and that meant more to me than anything.”
Players like Jackson-Davis, senior forward Race Thompson and others may not come back for another season despite still having eligibility, but the foundation has already been laid for the future stars and faces of the program. It was a successful season for the resurgent Hoosiers, who played some of their best basketball down the stretch after a poor end to the regular season.
“I'm proud of my guys for always fighting, and that's probably my favorite part (of the season),” Jackson-Davis said. “Just seeing the guys rally when adversity struck and being able to compete and clawing our way back in and making the Big Dance. I know it's not how we wanted to go out, but it's an honor and blessing to be here.”