Time. The unrelenting, unfeeling constant. In our hubris we spend all our lives desperately trying to outsmart it, dominate it, bend it to our whims, only for it to inevitably eradicate everything that we’ve come to know and love.
Anyway, let’s talk about some really tall college dudes throwing balls into hoops.
No. 15 Indiana men’s basketball celebrated senior day with a 75-73 overtime victory against Michigan on Sunday, capping off a regular season of dramatic highs and lows with one final thrill ride at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. After a frantic second-half comeback, senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and graduate forwards Race Thompson and Miller Kopp dragged the Hoosiers through overtime to secure a victory and a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
True to form for Indiana, this game was not exactly what you’d call easy on the eyes.
The Wolverines and Hoosiers spent the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s contest playing a game that somewhat resembled basketball, notably with far fewer instances of actually putting a ball in a basket. The teams combined to shoot 44% from the floor and 15% from beyond the arc, resulting in a 29-27 lead for Indiana. While the Hoosiers controlled most of the half, the Wolverines ripped off a 10-0 scoring run in the last 2:34 to make things uncomfortably close.
After such a stagnant opening frame, it seemed that whichever team could unearth a shred of offensive success was destined for victory. For the first 10 minutes of the second half, that was Michigan. The Wolverines suddenly remembered how to shoot, draining five 3-pointers en route to a 54-42 lead.
Then, Indiana sophomore Tamar Bates hit a 3-pointer, his first since what feels like the Obama administration. Then Jackson-Davis and Thompson took over, willing the Hoosiers within 3 points. The Hoosier big men combined for 43 points and 19 rebounds.
A 3-pointer by freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino with 59 seconds remaining knotted the game at 69 to send it to overtime. Even though the outcome was completely up in the air until a Michigan turnover with four seconds remaining in overtime, Indiana felt largely in control. Kopp drained a long 2-point jumper, Jackson-Davis logged two critical blocks and Race Thompson did just enough defensively to make fans forgive him for bricking four consecutive free throws.
That’s a rather sparse recap, but the emotions of Sunday far transcended the overtime-induced heart palpitations.
Look, it isn’t like I find myself constantly reflecting on four years of hard decisions, complex relationships and missed opportunities or anything. That would be silly; I only care about basketball and writing about said basketball. However, I can understand why one might get a little swept up in the feelings of senior day.
After the game, each graduating senior reflected on his time in Bloomington.
Kopp recounted his metamorphosis from a much-maligned Northwestern transfer to a mostly reliable sharpshooter. His speech included a remark about how he couldn’t look at his mom or else he’d start crying, then concluded with a plea to the fans to “stay primal.”
Thompson was quick to acknowledge that he has been at IU a long time — I’m pretty sure I’ve had tenured professors who were still in grad school while Thompson was wearing the candy stripes — while Jackson-Davis offered frank gratitude to his family members before reminding fans the job is not done. As you might expect, Jackson-Davis got slightly more applause than his contemporaries.
And why wouldn’t he? Jackson-Davis joined Indiana as a heralded four-star recruit and almost instantly became the best player on Indiana’s roster. He’s the type of player fans expected to play for a season, maybe two, then skedaddle for the pros.
Instead, Jackson-Davis hung around Bloomington for four years, setting program records in career blocks and rebounds while surging to fourth on the all-time scoring list. While he hasn’t won the banners he or fans hoped, he has generated immeasurable energy and excitement.
None of Indiana’s soon-to-be graduates had perfect careers. There have been injuries, dry shooting spells and demoralizing defeats. But in college basketball, a sport that churns out heartbreak after heartbreak until only one team remains, it’s games like these that fans must savor to make it all worthwhile.
Are the Hoosiers poised for a Big Ten championship? A deep NCAA Tournament run? I have no idea. As I’ve said countless times, Indiana’s highs and lows are so unpredictably extreme that trying to project them is basically an exercise in masochism.
But if you’re a Hoosier, you probably feel pretty good right now. Why not just enjoy it for a second?
OK, second’s up — back to the horrifying precipice of the unknown.