It’s hard to script a worse 24 hours for the Hoosier state. In consecutive nights, Indiana’s men’s and women’s basketball teams were knocked off by Miami in the NCAA Tournament second round.
Each game was marked by slow first halves from the cream and crimson and lights out shooting from the Hurricanes. Each saw one team pouncing on loose balls and boxing out for rebounds with tenacity, and the other seemingly flustered by the physicality.
Too often, Indiana was the second team.
Most importantly, each saw the farewell of Hoosier greats that ushered in a new era of Indiana basketball: senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis for the No. 4 seed men’s team and graduate guard Grace Berger for the No. 1 seed women’s team.
For a program that has largely mired in mediocrity, Berger was a sort of savior upon her arrival in 2018. Her stone-cold demeanor and staunch professionalism exemplified the ideals of ninth-year head coach Teri Moren. For five seasons, Berger was Indiana women’s basketball.
She’s a personality that leads by example. Introverted by nature, when Berger speaks, everyone listens. Her impact on her teammates is profound, and perhaps no one was touched as heavily as All-American senior forward Mackenzie Holmes.
The tandem enhanced the team’s fortunes exponentially — this was almost certainly the most successful regular season in program history. But now, the pairing’s third March Madness run has come to a close. An emotional Holmes couldn’t contain tears when Berger’s name was mentioned.
“It’s hard to put into words right now,” Holmes croaked as tears flowed down her cheek. “Obviously I’m upset. (It) was my last game with Grace. It’s been a privilege to play with her these past four years. I just hate that it has to end like this for her.”
Unlike the men’s team, who were ultimately steamrolled Sunday night, Moren’s group displayed a warrior-like fight to claw out of a 12-point halftime deficit in Monday night’s contest. Holmes was completely stifled in the first half, but her 18 second half points spearheaded a comeback that fell just short.
For both teams, quite frankly, excuses for a loss could be conceivable. Spotty officiating was argued fervently, and the Hoosiers definitely bore the brunt of a handful of incorrect calls.
Berger was notably clobbered on a layup attempt in the middle of the third quarter, and even Miami graduate guard Destiny Harden’s game winning bucket came by way of a controversial lack of a travel call.
Still, despite the officiating ambiguity, there were no excuses for Indiana.
Teams are defined by their performances in March, and the Hoosiers failed. That may be overly simplistic, but a team with aspirations of cutting down the nets in Dallas concluded its 2022-23 campaign well before it should’ve.
After the first quarter, Indiana trailed 20-12. The 8-point hole felt more akin to a giant well, but to the Hoosiers credit, they fought. Sometimes that’s not enough, though.
From two colossal 3-point makes from freshman guard Yarden Garzon, including a ridiculous step back triple with seven seconds left, to superb plays from Holmes and Berger down the stretch, Indiana had its chances.
Harden even missed a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left, seemingly begging the Hoosiers to pull away with a dramatic win. But a questionable offensive possession in which Berger put up a contested floater bailed out the Hurricanes and yanked them right back into contention.
“Miami made us pay,” Moren said. “We had some game slippage, and that was frustrating over there on the sideline. Whether we didn’t communicate the way we needed to on a switch, whether we went under a ball screen, that was not our gameplan.”
Well after the game, after tears began to dry and the quietness of Assembly Hall grew eerie, graduate forward Alyssa Geary strolled back onto the court. She stepped to the free-throw line, took a few dribbles and sunk her first attempt.
The Providence transfer hadn’t seen a ton of action in her lone season with the Hoosiers. But as she gazed from one block of empty seats to the next, her appreciation for her short time in Bloomington was evident.
Monday night’s loss stings, no doubt. For Moren, Holmes, Berger and everyone involved in the program, it will likely take some time to recover. This is what March basketball does. It takes teams like Indiana — an almost surefire Final Four contender — and rips their hearts out.
This Hoosier team had a special starting five and a handful of bench pieces who should see a sizeable uptick in usage moving forward. I know, it almost feels like a cruel joke for the season to end like this. React to the loss as you wish.
If you’re one for anger and annoyingly lengthy Twitter rants, I can’t blame you. If somberness is more your speed, I totally understand. But don’t discount what the Hoosiers did this season. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad — as crushing and gut-wrenching as the bad may be.
“I choose to focus on all the great things,” Moren said. “I’m sad, but golly, when I look back, I’m very proud. It’s human nature to always remember the last game. You’re 28-4. That’s a great season. You get a No. 1 seed which has never happened here. It hurts right now, but it should.”
There’s no right way to cope. Hoosier fans, you’ve been through hell in the last two nights.
If I were to offer my last bit of completely unsolicited advice, however, it would be to follow Moren’s lead and cherish those accomplishments.