The man who checks tickets and IDs last at the Indianapolis airport — that is, right before you put your shoes on a conveyor belt and walk through a device that beeps if you’re part metal — is a jovial sort, as one would expect you would have to be if your job consisted of briefly interacting with thousands of people each day.
He told me, as I handed him my materials, that I was lucky to be getting out. Before I could reply he explained to me that a massive ice storm was headed to Indy. He’d watched the radar on the Weather Channel, and the storm was shaped like a triangle with the point stabbing this fair city and promising a miserable few days of travel just when so many people had so many places to go.
I smiled and scanned for an open lane. If I’d had the time, I would have told him that I’m not lucky to be getting out. I’m lucky to be getting home.
That was the overwhelming feeling I had after Indiana lost to Northeastern: that the kids would be lucky to get a day or two away from it all. Simply put, they mustered very little desire on Monday night. And so they were doomed. Really, it was a first: Indiana had lost only to teams that could outclass it in some tangible way. The Hoosiers hadn’t yet lost because of anything close to resembling a lack of effort.
We all wondered how they would come out of a nine-game break, one that began after Kentucky tamped out the Hoosiers with a furious early run. There was an interesting dichotomy to the week: while the players took finals to show their professors how much they had learned, they got back into coach Tom Crean’s classroom for the first time since games began. They had a few days to concentrate on themselves and not whatever gameplan Crean had crafted for the next opponent.
During a 12-3 run to begin the game, those of us not privy to practice had to assume that the Hoosiers had flourished last week. That, having weathered a tough early schedule and emerged a .500 ball club, they had come to understand that hard work pays off and had therefore pushed to meet every one of Crean’s challenges, which were no doubt numerous.
Then Northeastern methodically pulled ahead simply by avoiding unsteadiness. The Huskies were far from flawless. They had neither a prolific offense nor a truly stifling defense (though it was certainly good.) They just soldiered on, as some of Indiana’s players passed up good shots and others lofted bad ones in the general direction of the rim.
Later — actually almost a full 45 minutes after the final buzzer — Crean attributed the loss to lack of focus and will, and said that he’d seen it coming in practice. And he said some variation of the general theme for the year, which is that he didn’t have an answer for why it had gone the way it had gone. Nobody did, he said, because nobody has been through it before with a team this young.
It is important to empathize with the people you cover, I think, because only then can you hope to share the experience with readers. Though we aren’t able to watch practice (I wish we were, given the historic nature of the season and the desire of many fans to be able to follow the season as a growing experience instead of a quest for wins as they usually would) and are generally kept away from having any genuine interaction with the players, it is impossible not to feel the weight of the season. There’s been so many changes of direction, with each turn leading to what surely must be the right path until it, too, curves sharply or dead-ends completely. So many bursts forward up over the mountain and so many mountains after the mountains.
I didn’t bother going to sleep after the game, knowing I’d have to get in the car at 4 a.m. to head to the airport. And so the game replayed in my head. But all my thought went for nothing (which I suppose is not unusual); I couldn’t figure it out, couldn’t develop a theory, couldn’t come up with questions I’d ask Tom Crean at the next press conference. All I could think was that the players were lucky to have a few days to step away, maybe even to get home.
Minutes ago, Malik Story and Jeremiah Rivers walked through the B terminal. Upon reaching his gate, Story turned to Rivers and extended his hand, and Rivers met it with his. He held on for a second without breaking stride and said nothing. He just kept on walking.
[8 P.M. UPDATE]
Steven Gambles is dressed and apparently has been cleared to play tonight.
Kevin Alston has decided to turn pro, his father Larry confirmed today. More details to come.
One quick soccer note to get the week started. One of the biggest offseason impacts on the 2009 Hoosiers may be the decision of junior defender Kevin Alston.
Coach Mike Freitag said Alston is high on the board of many in the MLS, and with new guaranteed multi-year contracts for early entries and six-figure salaries, it will be a tough decision. “Right now, Iâ€™d say thereâ€™s a 50-50 chance he could go to the pros early,” Freitag said.
Alston, who was scheduled to head home following exams and talk with his family, was first team all-Big Ten this season and a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America NCAA Division I All-Great Lakes Region team.
FINAL: HOOSIERS 81, WILDCATS 57Â
1:35, SECOND HALF: This game has been decided as both coaches are freely substituting now. A really nice job by Indiana to break open a close game midway through the second half. It’s that explosive streak that makes this IU team dangerous. Former North standout Lydia Serfling in for the final minute and a half. HOOSIERS 81, WILDCATS 57
3:58, SECOND HALF: Coming down the homestretch now, it’s too much Indiana and too much Whitney Thomas for Northwestern to handle. IU has also gotten nice contributions from freshmen Ashlee Mells and Lindsay Enterline. HOOSIERS 73, WILDCATS 52
7:44, SECOND HALF: And suddenly it’s the Whitney Thomas Show. Thomas dishes to Braun for a 3, pulls down a rebound and is fouled for two free throws, makes a steal and layup and is fouled on another defensive rebound. Tack on two more free throws and IU has its biggest lead. Thomas has 16 points and eight rebounds. HOOSIERS 62, WILDCATS 47
11:34, SECOND HALF: Northwestern has the Indiana offense completely out of rhythm right now and has crawled within six. HOOSIERS 49, WILDCATS 43
15:52, SECOND HALF: Northwestern scored the first five points of the second half, but Indiana answered with two Jori Davis free throws and Amber Jackson’s three-point play to push the lead back to double digits. HOOSIERS 45, WILDCATS 33
HALFTIME: HOOSIERS 38, WILDCATS 26
Whitney Thomas scores the final basket of the half for Indiana and the Hoosiers head to the locer room with a head full of steam, although Thomas is grimacing after she jammed her right thumb earlier in the half. She is now wearing a wrap on that thumb. Thomas is part of a very balanced IU attack with eight points. Kim Roberson leads with nine, Jori Davis has eight, Amber Jackson seven and Jamie Braun six. Indiana is shooting 50 percent from the field (16-of-32), but just 40 percent from the line (2-of-5).
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Eric Gordon doesn’t shoot well (5-of-13 from the floor and 1-of-6 from 3) but does hit two key baskets to help the Clippers to a 117-109 double-overtime win against the depleted Pacers. Indiana was without leading scorer Danny Granger, leading rebounder Troy Murphy and starter Marquis Daniels due to sickness.
Gordon scored on a designed play with 17 seconds left in regulation to cut the Pacers’ lead to one. After the Pacers hit two free throws, Al Thorton nailed a 3 to send the game into overtime.
Gordon found himself open with 1:22 left in the second overtime when the Pacers’ defense collapsed on a driving Baron Davis. But Davis kicked to Gordon, who hit his lone 3 to put the Clippers ahead 114-107.
Gordon created a buzz earlier this week by saying drug usage by some of his Indiana teammates ruined last season. On Friday, he refused to discuss those comments.
“I’m not going to discuss any issues that happened in the past,” he told reporters before the game. “What happened in the past, happened in the past, and we’re going to move on from here.”
Gordon also said that former coach Kelvin Sampson tried to corral the drug problem but was unable to because he was too focused on winning. Sampson, now an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, refused comment through a team spokesman when asked about Gordon’s assertion.
The Clippers play in Milwaukee Saturday night. Gordon said he is looking forward to playing against Sampson, the coach who convinced/allowed him to renege on his verbal to Illinois and commit to Indiana.
“He follows me a lot,â€ Gordon said of Sampson. â€œWe stay in contact with each other. Thereâ€™s nothing between us. Weâ€™re always going to be together.â€
Tom Crean was here a few minutes ago. My guess is that he was here recruiting the six-year-olds then playing.
He left shortly after their game ended to continue his recruiting, likely at a nearby high school.
Hordes of Eric Gordon fans have gathered here at Conseco Fieldhouse for tonight’s Pacers-Clippers game.
Much to their delight, Gordon led the Clippers onto the floor for warmups seconds ago.
IU has just issued an announcement that freshman defensive back Cortez Smith, who was arrested on robbery charges Thursday, has been suspended indefinitely. The release from IU is provided below:
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana University football coach Bill Lynch has indefinitely suspended freshman defensive back Cortez Smith (Detroit/Cass Tech) following his arrest on robbery charges Thursday in Bloomington. Smith did not see any action and redshirted during the 2008 season.
â€œHe (Smith) faces serious allegations of misconduct that in my opinion require immediate action,â€ Lynch said.Â â€œAs a result, I have suspended him indefinitely from all team activities, pending the legal resolution of this matter.â€
Jeremy Gainer announced today that he’ll sign with Michigan State, according to Rivals.com. A top 15 outside linebacker in the country, Gainer gave a verbal commitment to Indiana over the summer but opened his recruitment a few weeks ago.