March Madness? More like March Sadness.
Playing their fifth game in eight days, Indiana (21-14) had no answers for one of the best mid-major teams in country, falling to Saint Mary’s (26-7) by 29 points. That was by far the largest margin of defeat for Indiana this season, and the most lopsided NCAA Tournament loss in program history.
Mike Woodson started the same five that knocked off Wyoming in the First Four: Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Miller Kopp, Race Thompson, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. One strange twist at the start of the game was Moda Center, the Portland arena hosting the game, had issues letting fans into the game after the preceding Gonzaga/Georgia State contest. In front of mostly empty seats, the teams exchanged the lead five times in the first five minutes, before the Hoosiers moved ahead.
The unsung hero of IU’s First Four win, Jordan Geronimo, pushed Indiana ahead with a combination of effective outside and inside play. His three gave IU a 16-14 lead, and a layup moments later put IU up by four.
Geronimo was the first Hoosier reserve to enter the game. Over the next minute, four more Hoosier bench players came into the contest: Rob Phinisee, Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway, and Michael Durr. Saint Mary’s responded with a big run when Woodson went with a full-bench lineup.
An 18-14 lead turned into a 25-21 deficit before Johnson and Jackson-Davis would return. Within the blink of an eye, a layup by Alex Ducas, free throws by Tommy Kuhse, a three by Ducas, and a layup from Logan Johnson opened up a 10-point Gaels lead. IU never found its footing the rest of the way.
The Hoosiers’ lack of energy, intensity, and execution stood out over the final 22 minutes of the game. Saint Mary’s was first to almost every rebound and loose ball. Their stifling half-court defense, which ranked ninth in the country per KenPom, limited good looks for Indiana.
“I had to be better tonight. I know we’re a much better team than we showed tonight, and that’s on me,” Woodson said after the game. “Travel had nothing to do with it.”
On the other side of the court, head coach Randy Bennett’s methodical, well-versed, well-prepared offense repeatedly forced IU to guard for 20+ seconds before a crippling basket.
Any hopes of a second half comeback by the Hoosiers, similar to what happened against Michigan a week ago, were eliminated in the first possession for each team after halftime.
Jackson-Davis missed a shot in the key, and Kuhse came down to the other end and nailed a three. The sixth-year former walk-on played a strong floor game for the Gaels, finishing with 19 points and six assists.
IU’s offense fell apart afterward. The Hoosiers went over six minutes before their first field goal of the second half. Indiana didn’t make a field goal for the final 3:22 of the first half, which meant the overall drought was 9:35 with halftime in the middle. The only moment of levity came when two IU cheerleaders brought the ball down from high atop the basket.
Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s had no issue putting the ball in the hoop. Logan Johnson scored to put the Gaels up 24. Ducas drilled a shot to make it 26. Matthias Tass twirled one inside to push it to 28. When bench player Dan Fotu converted on the next possession, Saint Mary’s led Indiana by a whopping 30 points.
They were four of the eight Gaels to score in the contest. Four were in double figures: Johnson (20), Kuhse, Ducas (13), and Tass (12).
“Tonight, we just didn’t have it,” Jackson-Davis said after the game. “We didn’t have that spark.”
With the game well out of hand, Woodson gave some playing time late to reserves Khristian Lander, Anthony Leal, and Logan Duncomb. Leal made two free throws late, his first two career NCAA Tournament points, a moment that the Bloomington native will likely never forget. Lander scored the final points of the season for IU just before the buzzer.
Indiana’s season is over at 21-14. A number of key players have to decide whether or not to return next season, led by Trayce Jackson-Davis. Newcomers Kaleb Banks, CJ Gunn, and Jalen Hood-Schifino will join the team. Hoosier Hysteria will take place some time in October, and the season opener will tip off some time in the second week of November.
Featured Image: AP / Craig Mitchelldyer