Hearing the news that the goal you’ve worked toward all your life is finally yours. Discovering that someone you love with your whole heart feels the same way about you. Watching your school’s point guard throw down a one-handed jam to seal a rivalry victory over the No. 1 team in the nation.
I’d say the competition for the best feeling in the world is pretty cut and dry, no?
Two months after it lost to a pair of top-10 teams by a combined 36 points, No. 21 Indiana men’s basketball defeated No. 1 Purdue 79-74 on Saturday. When the final buzzer sounded and Hoosier fans stormed the court, I hope they learned that pain isn’t just an unfortunate side effect of sports fandom — it’s sort of the whole point.
In the early goings, any soreness that lingered from Indiana’s 66-55 road loss to Maryland on Tuesday night was quickly flushed away like a shot of morphine. The Hoosiers leapt to a double-digit lead over the Boilermakers and didn’t miss a step. When they exited the floor leading 50-35 at halftime, they left an aura of elation and disbelief in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Were the Boilermakers frauds? Did head coach Matt Painter bamboozle us?
Not exactly. Purdue outscored Indiana 39-29 in the second half as its long-range shots started connecting and star junior center Zach Edey exploded for 18 of his 33 points.
However, even when the Boilermakers came within a single point of the Hoosiers with two minutes remaining, the home team held its ground.
[Related: INSTANT RECAP: No. 21 Indiana men’s basketball downs No. 1 Purdue 79-74, storms court]
Senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis logged 25 points and seven rebounds while also defending the 7-foot-4, 305-pound Edey, one of the few humans alive who can make Jackson-Davis look small.
Then there was freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, who bounced back from a dismal performance against Maryland with 16 points, four assists, two crucial steals and, of course, the breakaway dunk that cemented Indiana’s victory.
Rallying behind the Hoosiers all game long was what Jackson-Davis called the best crowd he’d ever heard at Assembly Hall. I’m inclined to agree with him.
It feels like there should be a degree of diminishing returns to the noise level in Assembly Hall. One sold-out crowd full of spite and $9 domestic beer shouldn’t be that much louder than any other. Yet Saturday’s crowd noticeably eclipsed that of the Ohio State or University of North Carolina games earlier this season. It was 40 unbroken minutes of ear-splitting passion, whether for a Jackson-Davis dunk, a questionable call by a referee or a tightly contested corgi race at halftime.
It’s easy to forget that not long ago those same joyous fans were at home, watching in dismay as Indiana surrendered a 17-0 run to the University of Arizona in Las Vegas. Then they saw graduate guard Xavier Johnson go down with a foot injury in an 84-62 loss at the University of Kansas. And then there was the three-game Big Ten losing streak.
But none of that matters when you beat your rival.
Indiana still has flaws. If Purdue had shot slightly better than 59% from the free-throw line, if Indiana had made one fewer 3-pointer, if any number of things had gone differently, the Boilermakers might have dealt the Hoosiers a crushing blow.
But last time I checked, what-ifs don’t show up on the scoreboard.
Obviously, as an unbiased practitioner of journalism, I would never dare root for Indiana. In my chest is a cold, icy void where a heart would usually be. When the Hoosiers win, I feel nothing but the urge to document it factually in impeccable AP style.
However, as someone who attends IU, I suppose I can envision a world in which seeing the Hoosiers take down their archrival, the No. 1 team in the country, would bring me a great deal of joy. Indiana fans should savor that feeling as much as possible, because there aren’t many things better as a sports fan.
I also think the feeling wouldn’t be quite as sweet if not for the struggles preceding it.
Like any love, the love of sports is only attainable for those with a willingness to be hurt. While there are definitely far worse fates than rooting for an occasionally mediocre basketball team, I’ll acquiesce it hasn’t been an easy road for the Hoosiers.
Judging by the joy I saw on thousands of faces on Saturday night, I think Indiana fans are ready to hurt a little more — after a long, definitely very safe and responsible night at downtown Bloomington’s finest establishments, of course.
Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.