PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time all year, Indiana got its doors blown off on Thursday night. No. 5 seed Saint Mary's clobbered them every which way imaginable in an 82-53 rout in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was so bad that the stars of the game for Indiana were Nathan Paris and Cassidy Cerny.
Don't recognize those names, you say? Well, you shouldn't, because they are Indiana cheerleaders, not players. And they were a perfect one-for-one in getting the job done.
Early in the second half, the basketball got stuck between the top of the backboard and a shot clock, and there was a problem getting it down. Saint Mary's center Matthias Tass, who's 6-foot-10, couldn't reach it with the short mop stick, and Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis thought about it, but couldn't reach it either.
The referee grabbed a chair, but he couldn't reach it, either, with the short mop handle. Tass tried stepping up on a not-so-secure folding chair, but the referee wouldn't let him.
To the rescue came the Indiana cheerleading squad. Nathan Paris, a senior cheerleader from Floyds Knobs, Ind., hoisted partner Cassidy Cerny, a sophomore from Avon, Ind., up on his shoulders, just like they do in many of their routines, and he lifted her into the air with his hands. She stood up and grabbed the ball off the board, and the game continued. To watch the video, CLICK HERE
It was a fun moment of levity in a game that was an abject disaster on the floor for the for the Hoosiers, who were running on fumes after playing five games in eight days and then had to travel through the night with multiple delays after beating Wyoming on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
They were competitive for the first nine minutes, building an 18-14 lead against a Saint Mary's defense that ranked 13th in the country in points allowed per game. Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis had three early baskets, and when Jordan Geronimo came in after six-plus minutes, he immediately hit a three-pointer and a layup after a turnover to give Indiana that four-point lead.
"I feel like we started off pretty good, pretty solid,'' Jackson-Davis said.
He was right. Early on, they were feeding off the good vibes they've accrued over this eight-day run of solid basketball. Saint Mary's hadn't played in nine days, and it took them a while to shake off the rust.
But then nothing — literally nothing — went right from there for the Hoosiers. Saint Mary's started getting good looks on three-pointers, and they were knocking them down. They went on a 12-3 run with most of Indiana's starters on the bench to grab the lead, and then finished the half against all five of Indiana's starters with another 12-2 run to take a 40-28 lead at the break.
"I thought after the first 10 minutes we defended well,'' Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "The first 10 minutes, I didn't think we were great defensively. After that we did, and I think we wore them down, and I think all the factors came into play with them playing Tuesday and having to travel came into play.
"I don't want to negate the fact that our guys played well, and when they needed to play well, they played well. I'm proud of them. Indiana is a good team and obviously a great, great program. So we understand what just happened. We beat a really good program, and we're moving on to the second round.''
They did it in convincing fashion. Indiana, running on fumes, only made seven shots in the second half, going 7-for-26 and 0-for 5 from three-point range. They were 2-for-10 for the game and were a miserable 4-for-23 from deep in two NCAA games.
Saint Mary's was very effective from deep. They made 10 threes, five in each half, and shot 47.6 percent from long range.
It got downright ugly in the second half. Saint Mary's pushed the lead to 21 within five minutes, and got it to 30 at the 10:50 mark while on a 19-2 run. Their largest lead was 34, and the 29-point margin of victory was the worst in Indiana's storied 101-game NCAA history.
"You've got to give Saint Mary's credit, and I have nothing but love and respect for Coach Bennett,'' Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. "I thought his team competed at a much higher level than we did tonight.''
Jackson-Davis, who finished with a team-high 12 points, felt it, too. The Hoosiers just didn't have many answers for the Gaels (26-7) once they got rolling. They were really good.
"I bet you they started scouting us right when they saw who they were playing,'' he said. "We had a game to worry about it with Wyoming. I think that they had a really, really good game plan going in. They doubled, then they came from the back side of the post. They watched my spinoffs, and then we couldn't hit anything, and they were making their shots.
"They had an excellent game plan, and they executed it very well. So it's props to them because they deserved to win that game.''
Indiana point guard Xavier Johnson was the only other Hoosier in double figures with 11. He was 3-for-8 shooting and made 5-of-6 free throws with five assists, but he also had five turnovers. The other three starters — Race Thompson, Miller Kopp and Parker Stewart — were a combined 2-for-14 shooting (14.3 percent) and scored a total of six points in combined 65 minutes.
Saint Mary's is ranked No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll and the Gaels are a No. 5 seed for a reason. They were the superior team on the floor all night, on both ends of the floor and at almost every position.
"We're a gritty-not-pretty team, said senior guard Logan Johnson, who led the Gaels with 20 points and was one of four players in double figures. "We're going to find ways to get it done. We know, once we get going defensively, and especially offensively, that that's when teams are in trouble and they really find out what they're stepping foot into.
"Anybody can say what they want. Oh, Saint Mary's is a small school, Saint Mary's this, mid-major this, mid-major that. You don't really know until you step foot into the arena and you realize it's five-on-five, and you have to defend us just like we defend you. So I think that's just a testament to Coach (Bennet) and the culture he's established in us.''
Indiana finished 21-14 in Woodson's first season back at his alma mater. And now it's into the all-important offseason and getting this program better. They made a good jump from the brutal Archie Miller era, but it's nowhere near where Woodson, the players and this fan base want it to be.
But they had a nice run in the Big Ten Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years, and that's a start.
But that's all it is — a start.
"It just means we've got to go back and get busy this summer and get better,'' Woodson said. "But it was a great run for our ball club this season getting back into the Big Dance, and now we've got to build on it for future. That's what it's all about at this point. It's huge (having some postseason success). Moving forward, it's big time because it gives them an opportunity to taste it and feel what it's really like. I mean, if you never get an opportunity to taste March Madness, man, it's not a good feeling, I'll tell you that.
"I went a few years where I didn't make the Big Dance, and it's a long summer. It's like relating to the NBA playoff basketball. If you never give your team an opportunity to get in the playoffs, they'll never know what it feels like. Now these guys, they have a feel. They got this summer to go and work on things that can make them better as ballplayer and make us better as a team when they come back. So it's a lot of positives making the Big Dance this year for our program.''
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- LIVE BLOG: Relive all the play-by-play from Indiana's loss to Saint Mary's in real time. CLICK HERE