Photo courtesy of IU Athletics:
s the flood of hundreds of jubilant fans quickly became thousands on Branch McCracken Court, Tom Crean appeared to be cemented to the ground.
Students were moshing while children were being raised on the shoulders of their parents. Middle-aged men were dancing and grandparents were brought back in time.
Each generation celebrating in unison to the tune of the forever-playing Big Red Basketball Band. It was cathartic.
For one night, the glory of old IU had returned.
With the bedlam in Bloomington just beginning, Crean traversed the handshakes, hugs and hollers that awaited in the back foyers of Assembly Hall.
Finally, after a Gatorade shower and a long hug with his wife, Joani, Crean took his seat at the podium.
“This is one of the most shared moments that I’ve ever been a part of,” Crean said with relief. “This is the epitome of what Hoosier Nation is all about and the fans and everybody that supports this program from close and far, young and old, they deserve it because it’s one of those moments that everybody’s going to remember.”
In the midst of the madness, Crean stood statuesque. He was intent on being stuck in the moment. His reasoning dated back to a picture he kept during his time as a graduate assistant at Michigan State – a picture that was taken after winning a Big Ten championship game.
“The picture showed Tom [Izzo] standing back while everyone was celebrating, and I always thought that was the coolest thing,” Crean said.
“Sometimes when the crowd erupts, you see pictures but you never get a chance to take it in. I wanted to make sure I took this one in.”
ith every launch, there comes a point when everyone grabs someone else’s hand and holds on tight, ready or not.
As Christian Watford’s game winning three-point attempt was launched into the air, what ensued after was described by ESPN broadcaster Dan Shulman as a scene unlike any he’d ever experienced.
But first, the hopes of 17,472 in attendance - 17,456 the official capacity – and the thousands watching around Bloomington were all strung together as one. As the ball floated towards the rim, nobody knew what to do.
What had been one of the loudest crowds Assembly Hall has ever seen – and it has produced some noise before – became silent. Nothing was left to do but grab the closest hand and wait.
Before Watford found himself at the bottom of a mob of teammates and what he swore felt like a thousand fans that rushed the court, he was able to hold a pose through his shot.
“It felt great,” Watford said of the shot. “It was a great feeling. I haven’t felt anything like that, it’s probably the most memorable moment of my life, definitely of my career.”
This wasn’t the first buzzer-beater Watford has made, which is why Watford didn’t seem to be unfamiliar with being at the bottom of the pile.
“I (made one) when I was in second grade,” Watford laughed. “I threw up a prayer from half court. They rushed the floor that time too, it was for the championship.”
The 6-9 Alabama native will likely keep this one at the forefront of his memory bank, especially after a trying start to this season.
Returning as the Hoosiers leading scorer, Watford suffered a foot injury just before the start of the season. A poor showing followed in the team’s first two games – a combined 3-14 shooting, a lack of rebounding and several turnovers – which led Watford to become the talk of the town, and not in a good way.
The growing sentiment around Bloomington was that Watford was no longer the leader of this team. New and exciting faces such as sophomores Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, not to mention freshman standout Cody Zeller, had emerged. Watford was struggling through his junior year while these three were being welcomed as the future of the program.
How easy it is to forget the early season struggles, though, after seeing Watford put the Hoosiers on his back in the second half, all while shutting down Kentucky All-American Terrence Jones for the second straight year.
After a double-digit Hoosier lead withered away in the second half, it was Watford who went bucket-for-bucket with the most talented team in the country.
Watford put the Hoosiers up 68-65 after barreling his way through a Kentucky front-court stocked with NBA talent for a layup. After the Wildcats regained a 70-68 lead, Watford called for the ball. When the jumper he was looking for was gone, he reverted to his newly acquired quick first step, finding his way around Terrence Jones with a crafty spin move for another layup.
After a Marcus Teague layup and a Dorron Lamb free throw put Kentucky ahead 72-70, it was Watford who found the ball in his hands with just seconds left on the clock and one shot to determine the game.
veryone’s life is filled with a few moments when something truly substantial is about to happen.
The strangest part is that you know it’s going to be substantial, and you know you’ve done everything you can to prepare for the moment. Even still, you just don’t know for sure and would be foolish to pretend otherwise.
“You can’t,” Jordan Hulls said when asked to put the moment in perspective.
Had Watford’s shot missed, many would have considered a two-point loss to No. 1 ranked Kentucky a moral victory.
But being ahead at the final buzzer was all that mattered to the fans who set up “Camp Crean“ Wednesday night and the thousands that lined up outside of Assembly Hall as early as 7:00 a.m., who wanted to make sure the seats were packed and the Hoosier hysteria could be felt. Not just 90 minutes before tip-off, but echoing deep into Sunday morning.
“We knew the whole time we could play with them,” Watford said. “That’s one thing Crean instilled in us from the beginning. We believed in ourselves and we knew we had to do it together.”
With only a 28-66 record to show for his tenure at IU – and largely the same cast of players – Crean continued to preach to his players their potential, enough so that they believed it as well.
“I told our players before the game, and I don’t think it was anything profound, this team, these young men have endured a lot and to have an opportunity like this today in front of them, I had 100 percent confidence that they would do everything to max it out and they did,” Crean said.
Belief can simplify that which is not simple. It was very unlikely that a Hoosier team with no marquee wins to its name could pull off the unthinkable and beat the No. 1 team in the country.
They were outmatched physically and athletically at every position. Kentucky was coming off three consecutive trips to the Elite Eight and two Final Four appearances.
But they believed.
All it takes is one to erase 28-66.
And now, all of Hoosier nation believes, too.
“Our fans deserve that, they deserve to storm the court, they deserve to stand on chairs and tables and be excited,” Crean said. “They do and our players deserve it.”
They don’t just deserve it, Tom, they earned it.