Jacob - @JacobRude

That Night IU Turned the Corner0

As we get further and further from last season, the more it sets in what a special season it was. For a team that was supposed to be another year away, this season was incredibly enjoyable. Obviously the game against Kentucky might be the most common memory from this season, but let’s not forget the Ohio State game in that same month, the Michigan State win, or even the win at NC State.

This season was also a season full of “First in…” achievements. For example, the win over Kentucky was the first in five years. The sweep of Purdue was the first in seven years. The win over Michigan State gave the Hoosier its third win over a top-five ranked team, the first in….well, ever.

However, it was a different “first in” that changed IU’s fortunes and the way people looked at the program and, more specifically, Tom Crean. Better yet, it didn’t even happen during this magical season. However, everyone who watched that game can’t deny the impact it had on the program.

On a cold night January last year, IU hosted a ranked team for the 18th time under Crean. The previous 18 had all ended in the exact same way; a dejected Hoosier team walking off the court after being handed yet another loss. This night was setting up similarly before the game even started as both Verdell Jones and Maurice Creek were on the bench with injuries. As a season ticket holder, I myself declared the game a Hosier loss and turned down my seats behind the basket for my living room. To top it off, it was coming against one of our conference rivals.

However, as the game played out, this wasn’t like the previous 18 games. This IU team was battling and hanging with their opponent, point for point. Jordan Hulls scored 12 second half points and Tom Pritchard added to his lore with a tip-in down the stretch to give IU the lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

After a last-ditch-effort three fell short and the buzzer sounded, IU players and coaches stormed onto the court in celebration. Fans, unsure whether this fell under the “proper court storming situation” rules, hesitantly made their way onto the floor. For the first time in the program’s history under Crean, they weren’t walking off dejected after battle with a ranked team. Things were different this time.

Indiana 52, Illinois 49.

We all know the immediate aftermath. The spontaneous pep rally in the lobby with Crean in the middle. The fans lingering around the gym for hours after the game. The renewed excitement in and around the program. Personally, though, I wondered what to make of this win. In the end, I decided (at that time) that this game would lead one of two ways.

1. This would be the moment Crean turned the corner. This win was just a sign of things to come and validated the patience fans, players, and even IU officials had in Crean. Years later, we would look at this game as a moment fans shouldn’t forget.

2. This game would be the highlight of Crean’s tenure at IU. It would turn out he wasn’t the guy for the job, IU would be mediocre a couple more seasons, and Crean would eventually be fired. This game would become the one bright spot in a series of “what-ifs” surrounding Crean’s tenure as head coach.

As we look back now, it’s seems like the former, not the latter, will become the case. In a season filled with buzzer beaters, huge wins, and a Sweet 16 berth, fans quickly forgot about how, just one season earlier, this Hoosier proved that they had fight in them, showing glimpses of what to expect in the future. Where people, including myself, doubted them against Illinois, everyone doubted them coming into this season.

“This team is one year away”

“This team can’t win road games”

“This team can’t hang with Kentucky”

“This team can’t beat two top ranked teams”

“This team can’t beat Michigan State and Tom Izzo”

“This team can’t handle New Mexico State’s size”

“This team will be out coached by Shaka Smart”

“This team can’t hang with Kentucky again”

Each time, doubters were proven wrong. Each time, IU stood victorious. And along the way, they added to their list of “first in” accomplishments.

Now, IU fans will be expecting their first title in 26 years. The doubters will surely come, but, clearly, that means little to IU.