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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

COLUMN: Indiana men’s basketball’s season closes with tearful regrets, memories and a blowout loss

Iu vs Nebe -Big10-final-14.jpg

MINNEAPOLIS — Gabe Cupps sat in front of his locker at the entrance of Indiana men’s basketball’s oasis, teary-eyed and inconsolable. 

The Hoosiers’ freshman guard was minutes removed from the end of his first season in the cream and crimson, which officially came crashing down with Friday night’s 93-66 blowout loss to Nebraska at the Target Center. 

Cupps appeared filled with pain and remorse, revealing a cracked voice that reflected the sadness of a season coming to a close and the realization he’ll never suit up with some of the teammates he battled alongside this season. 

“I think I could’ve been a lot better for these guys, and especially the seniors who won’t get to play here again,” Cupps said. “I’m not as emotional as the season being over — for me, it’s back to work — but it’s the relationships I’ve built with the guys who may not be here next year.” 

Diagonally across from Cupps sat senior forward Anthony Walker. They’re four years apart in age, and Cupps has a majority of his college career still ahead of him — but at this moment, they’re emotionally identical. 

Tears swelling in Walker’s eyes, emotions poured out. But Walker, one of the seniors who Cupps may never play with again, was sorrowful for different reasons in his reflection. 

“Everything I've experienced during college, during my years of playing the sport at this level,” Walker said. “I can't do nothing but be grateful. I played on some beautiful teams. This is a beautiful team, a beautiful atmosphere, the coaching staff was nothing but supportive all year. I’ve gained lifelong friends.” 

In the corner of the locker room, forward Malik Reneau, who earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after a breakout sophomore season, fought back tears. 

Reneau watched the season’s final nine minutes from the bench after fouling out. He avoided teammates’ high-five attempts and flung a towel over his shoulder thereafter, and he skipped the postgame handshake line, trudging off the court with a towel draped on his head. 

For the oft-expressive Reneau who wears his heart on his jersey, words were followed with sniffles while accepting the Hoosiers’ sudden end to a frustrating season. 

“It hurts,” Reneau said. “It really hurts because you know you won’t be able to play basketball until next season. It's just so tough. Not making the dance — everybody wants to make the dance — that’s the toughest part about it.” 

Indiana ends the year with a disappointing 19-14 record, and an IU Athletics spokesperson confirmed to the Indiana Daily Student on Friday that the Hoosiers won’t accept an NIT bid if offered. 

Thus, the barrage of triples — 14, to be exact — Nebraska buried on the Hoosiers is the lasting image from a season that, at one point, couldn’t end soon enough, but now feels almost unrepresentative. 

But really, for Indiana, this outcome was warned in November. 

Narrow escapes against inferior foes were almost shrugged off. After all, the Hoosiers welcomed 10 new faces, and growing pains were expected. They didn’t stop until Feb. 27, when Indiana beat Wisconsin, sparking a five-game winning streak. 

Momentum rose and the odds of a fairytale March ending grew — but it all ended as Nebraska made one bucket after another while Indiana shot only 35.3% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc.

Now, heads turn toward next year. Walker and guard Xavier Johnson are the Hoosiers’ lone confirmed departures. Others like Reneau, freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako and sophomore center Kel’el Ware have decisions to make on the NBA Draft. The transfer portal is a viable option for several others. 

Senior guard Trey Galloway, who announced March 10 he’ll be returning for a fifth season but didn’t play Friday night due to a knee injury, could do nothing but try to lead as Indiana’s season slipped away. 

But for Galloway, the work is just beginning. Recruiting for next year starts now, he said. Cupps added he’ll get back in the gym preparing for next season as soon as Indiana’s plane touches down in Bloomington. 

Work similarly begins now for Woodson and his staff, who are now tasked with retooling a roster that routinely lacked shooting and guard play. Woodson’s offensive philosophy centers around playing inside-out, with the front court carrying a considerable burden. 

Galloway said he felt Ware and Reneau were dominant this season. Still, it wasn’t enough. Reneau thinks more help is needed on the outside. 

“Confidence, shot making, just to relieve some of the pressure on the bigs,” Reneau said. “It's hard to capitalize when you’ve got two to three or four people on you trying to go. So, just the ability to make shots, having confidence in taking those shots and making them.” 

Galloway wants players who are part of a winning culture. For Indiana, there wasn’t enough winning this year — and pressure is on to do it much more often next year. 

Woodson battled questions about his job security, often dismissing them. He said March 10 this offseason will be critical for the program, and he acknowledged after Friday night’s loss just how much work lays ahead. 

But for now, the focus is on a heartbroken Hoosiers locker room that, as assistant coach Yasir Rosemond told the team in a postgame huddle, fought hard all season but ultimately came up short. 

It’s the end of the line for Johnson, Walker and likely several others. Be it for the final farewells or realization of underachievement, many tears were shed in the Target Center. 

But as the dust settles, one thing remains clear: the Hoosiers can’t afford to be in the same position next year, flying home in the middle of March with no postseason appearance to show for four months of work. 

“It hurts, but you just got to take it as a lesson and learn from it,” Galloway said. “Because the guys that are coming back next year, we’ve got to find ways and remember this feeling to know that it hurts to lose like this, and we don't want to do that.” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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