An ugly breakup. The first 10 minutes of Disney and Pixar’s “Up.” Close-up shots of a golden doodle with impossibly big eyes in a Humane Society public service announcement. We can keep rattling them off if you want, but when it comes to exercises in heartbreak, the NCAA Tournament takes the cake.
While there was no haunting Sarah McLachlan song to serenade No. 4 seed Indiana men’s basketball’s 85-69 loss to No. 5 University of Miami on Sunday night in Albany, New York, the pain was all the same. The Hoosiers capped off a season of dramatic highs, crushing lows and a laundry list of what-ifs with a performance all too familiar to fans.
If you’ve watched an appreciable number of Indiana games, you’ve probably seen the Hoosiers fall down to an early double-digit deficit. Sure enough, the Hurricanes led by as many as 13 points in the first half, creating shots out of nothing and burying them with ease.
Aside from stymying star senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, the formula for beating Indiana is pretty clear: make your 3-pointers. In its 85-66 loss to Penn State on Jan. 11, Indiana surrendered 18 3-pointers. It allowed 10 in an 80-65 loss to Michigan State on Feb. 21, then 13 in a 90-68 loss to Iowa one week later.
Guess who shot four 3-pointers in the span of one minute and 13 seconds Sunday night?
Maybe it’s just because my 22-year-old geriatric brain can’t process anything at normal speed past 8 p.m., but it felt like this game unfolded at a thousand miles per hour. True to their name, the Hurricanes whipped around the floor like a gale-force wind, tearing through the Hoosiers’ typically stout defense.
To its credit, Indiana battled back to enter halftime trailing 40-35, and even led briefly in the second half. But the Hoosiers are not built to win track meets, and the Hurricanes came ready to sprint.
It was too much even for Jackson-Davis, who logged 23 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in his last outing as a Hoosier. With 18:27 remaining in the second half, he grabbed an offensive rebound, then dunked over five Hurricane defenders to put the Hoosiers up 42-40. I am neither exaggerating nor trying to hoodwink you when I say Jackson-Davis literally dunked on Miami’s entire team.
Both teams traded blows for the next 10 minutes, but only one had the gas to finish the race to the Sweet 16. A 9-0 Miami run midway through the second half put the Hurricanes up 63-51, and the Hoosiers never recovered. Indiana’s guards started jacking up desperate 3-pointers from just about everywhere on the court, Miami ripped off another scoring run and Jackson-Davis was pulled from the game with a minute remaining, tears in his eyes.
Wells of ink will be spilled by countless writers about Jackson-Davis’ legacy — as well as those of fellow senior forwards Race Thompson and Miller Kopp — and the 2022-23 season that could have been. For now, none of the Hoosiers’ previous 34 games mean much of anything compared to the 40 minutes they played Sunday night.
In those 40 minutes, Indiana simply couldn’t hang with Miami. On another night, maybe the outcome would be different. But in the NCAA Tournament, you get one game to desperately fight and claw to outlast your opponent, only to earn the right to do it all over again against someone even better.
For 67 teams, that eventually ends in failure. It doesn’t matter if you have an NBA draft prospect like Jackson-Davis or a starting five comprised of 5-foot-11 future accountants.
That’s the beautiful yet somewhat messed-up nature of March Madness. Like countless star players before him, Jackson-Davis set a standard that only 15 or so players can meet in a given year. Barring a completely unexpected championship run, his career at Indiana was almost destined to end in tears of anguish.
That sounds horrifically depressing, which I suppose is appropriate for the immediate mood of most Hoosier fans. In the coming weeks, I imagine they will come to appreciate what is still probably Indiana’s best season in over five years.
Right now though? It might be time for Hoosier nation to put “In the Arms of an Angel” back on the Billboard Hot 100.