After the final buzzer sounded, and Indiana women’s basketball celebrated on the court, junior forward Mackenzie Holmes sprinted across the floor. She ran past the baseline, past the cameras and up the stairs into the student section. She wanted them to be a part of the celebration, too.
For just the second time in program history — and second consecutive season — Indiana women’s basketball is dancing into the Sweet Sixteen. In the team’s Second Round game on Monday, No. 3-seed Indiana defeated No. 11-seed Princeton University 56-55 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to advance.
“By God, we had to go all the way down to the end with them, but at the end of the fourth quarter, it's the fight that won the game,” head coach Teri Moren said. “They showed that throughout.”
The game started with a quick pace offensively, with both teams’ first points coming on 3-pointers. While Indiana and Princeton each saw success scoring the ball, both struggled with foul trouble in the tightly called game early on. The first two possessions of the game resulted in offensive foul calls.
Neither team managed to gain an edge in the first quarter, however, as the Hoosiers and Tigers traded buckets and the lead. After the first quarter, the game was tied 17-17.
Indiana continued finding success on offense in the second quarter, while Princeton struggled to hit shots. A 10-0 run by Indiana in the final minutes of the first half gave the team a double-digit cushion going into halftime.
Though the Hoosiers entered the break with a sizable lead, they had played far from a perfect game. Most notable among the Hoosiers’ blemishes were the 10 turnovers they committed in the first half alone.
Indiana kept its momentum going into the second half, and it looked like it might put the game away in the third quarter. Across seven-and-a-half minutes in the second and third quarters, Princeton failed to hit a single field goal as Indiana swelled its lead to 14 points — the largest lead of the game for either team.
Starting with a layup by Princeton junior guard Grace Stone, the Tigers stormed back into the game with a 13-2 run in the final six minutes of the third quarter. With just 10 minutes left to play, Indiana’s lead was down to only 2 points.
In the fourth quarter, the teams traded baskets, and the game went back-and-forth down the stretch. With just under five minutes left to play, Indiana led by a single point — but both teams went cold from the field after that.
Neither team scored for over three-and-a-half minutes until Princeton took the lead with 1:12 left on a pair of free throws from senior guard Abby Meyers. Indiana senior guard Grace Berger responded with a free throw of her own to tie the game with under a minute left.
After getting a stop on the defensive end, Indiana called a timeout to draw up a play with just 30 seconds left to play in the elimination game. After inbounding the ball, Indiana got it to Berger, who made a go-ahead layup. She led the team with 15 total points and seven rebounds.
“I was just focused on getting my head down and getting to the rim as quickly as I could,” Berger said. “(Graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary) set it up perfectly for me, got me going downhill, and then I got to the rim.”
With Indiana still ahead by just 2 points, it still had to stop Princeton from scoring in order to secure the win. As Princeton worked the ball around trying to find a shot, graduate student guard Ali Patberg jumped into the passing lane to steal the ball and gain possession back for Indiana.
Following the steal, Indiana ended up on the free-throw line, and senior forward Aleksa Gulbe hit both to give Indiana a 4-point lead with just a second to play. Princeton hit a 3-pointer as time expired to narrow the final deficit, but it didn’t matter.
The celebration was on for the 9,627 fans in attendance — the third-highest ever for a women’s basketball game at Assembly Hall — and Holmes was running towards the packed student section.
“I ran over there, and I was like, ‘Screw it, 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,’” Holmes said. “Because they are. We couldn't have done this without them.”
With the win, Indiana advances to the Sweet Sixteen and will face the No. 2-seed University of Connecticut in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Saturday.