There’s something indescribably beautiful about a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament. Together, we fall in love with the plucky mid-major who, against all odds, rises up and topples Goliath. The flutter of hope, the rush of joy, the enduring belief that anything is possible if you simply — wait, never mind, they got absolutely clobbered.
In a cold display of whistle-to-whistle dominance, No. 4 seed Indiana men’s basketball defeated No. 13 Kent State University 71-60 on Friday night in Albany, New York. In a game that didn’t feel as close as its final score, the Hoosiers bullied the underpowered Golden Flashes behind a combined 44 points and 20 rebounds from senior forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson.
After an uncomfortably close opening salvo, the Hoosiers finished the first half with a convincing 35-27 lead. Granted, it’s hard not to be winning when your opponent shoots a brutal 26% from the floor. The Golden Flashes missed nearly every kind of shot from nearly every corner of the court, leaving a first half shot chart that resembled a pirate’s map with buried treasure every few feet.
If you’re an Indiana fan, that probably made for a pleasant viewing experience. However, if you’re a Hoosier who also believes in the law of averages, you probably felt uneasy wondering what would happen if the Golden Flashes started putting the ball in the hoop more than once per fiscal quarter.
Spoiler alert: they did not. Kent State finished with a meager 32% success rate and never trailed by fewer than 6 points in the second half.
It is really hard to win games when you can’t make shots. I know, I know — look who knows so much about basketball.
Still, that’s ultimately what Friday night’s contest boiled down to. Indiana had the size and skill to reliably get buckets. Kent State, through a combination of poor shot selection, bad luck and swarming Indiana defense, simply couldn’t keep up.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson-Davis led the charge for the Hoosiers with 24 points. There aren’t many players in the country who can stop Jackson-Davis, and I can now say with confidence that none of them live in the vibrant metropolis that is Kent, Ohio. Despite a cold start, Indiana’s star big man got basically everything he wanted at the rim.
Then there was Thompson, who had arguably his best game of the season with 20 points, including 6 from deep. There was once a time when the thought of Thompson shooting, let alone making a 3-pointer was borderline inconceivable. Friday night, he swished a pair to the delight of a well-traveled Hoosier crowd.
It was a banner night for Indiana. Thompson was beaming, graduate forward Miller Kopp had his tongue out more often than not, even head coach Mike Woodson might have smiled at one point. Maybe.
Of course, you could easily argue the Hoosiers should win a game like this 99 times out of 100. Indiana trumps Kent State in size, speed, shooting ability, financial resources — pretty much everything outside of a nationally renowned fashion design and merchandising school. That is not a dig against the Golden Flashes; it’s just a reality of a brutally unequal game.
There are no brownie points for a Big Ten team beating a Mid-American Conference squad, no matter how scrappy. I realize the cool thing for Indiana fans would be to act like this win was no big deal.
The only problem is I distinctly remember mid-major Saint Mary’s College absolutely obliterating Indiana last year. You know what I don’t remember? Indiana winning a game in the round of 64 anytime in the last six years.
This take is a bit of a scorcher, but I think winning is cool and it’s OK to be happy when your team does it. After all, I’m sure there are plenty of Purdue fans who would love to be celebrating a first-round victory right about now.
Indiana’s next test comes against No. 5-seed University of Miami at 8:40 p.m. on Sunday. By all appearances, the Hurricanes will be a much tougher test than the Golden Flashes. The Hoosiers might even lose — it does happen to 67 teams in the tournament, after all.
Until then, to the dismay of non-Hoosiers and anyone pulling for the underdog, the blue blood remains afloat. In a tournament defined by its glorious Cinderella stories, I imagine it isn’t always fun rooting for the bad guy.
But geez, it sure beats losing, doesn’t it?
Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz), columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) and photographer Alex Paul (@alexpaulphoto) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.