ON THIS DAY: Hoosiers' Stunning Tourney Run in 2002 Comes Up Just Short

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There have been six Indiana basketball teams that have made it to the NCAA tournament championship game, and only one lost. That was the 2002 team coached by Mike Davis.

While it would have been great if they had hung another banner in Assembly Hall, that team will always be known more for the run they made that year than the disappointment that followed after losing 64-52 to Maryland.

Indiana was just a No. 5 seed that year, a team with just one true star — Jared Jeffries — and a coach that no one — on the outside — had bought into yet. Mike Davis was that guy who replaced Bob Knight after he was fired. But along the way, Indiana beat No. 1-ranked Duke in the regionals, and No. 3 Oklahoma in the national semifinals.

Maryland, ranked No. 4 and also a No. 1 seed in the tourney like Duke and Oklahoma, was loaded, too. 

"There was one pro on the team (Jeffries), and rest of us filled our roles,'' former Indiana guard Dane Fife told us a few years ago for the book, "Missing Banners,'' written by Terry Hutchens and myself.  "Our foundation was of Indiana basketball principles. We defended, we played hard and we were tough as nails. Each player was forced to embrace the culture set forth by Coach Knight and all the great Hoosiers of the past. 

"Coach Davis, (John) Treloar and the rest of the staff simply took the torch and healed the wounds that we had. More importantly, we the players held those standards high. We felt honored to be a part of Indiana basketball and would accept nothing but exactly what was expected from us each day. We owed it to the program, and all those who had supported it.''

That Indiana team was just 19-10 in the regular season, and had lost seven games to unranked teams. But they kept working, kept buying into the plan and kept finding a way.

“It was a collection of guys that had just been through so much together in a short period of time, and it was just a team where everybody bought in,’’ said Jeffries, the only player from that team who played in the NBA. He played in 629 NBA games in 13 seasons. “I’ve never played on a team quite like that one in that we were completely unselfish. No one cared who got the credit as long as we won.

"It was just a special group of players. The more I’ve been around basketball over the years, the more I realize how amazing a feat that really was.’’

The 2001-02 season was Davis' first as the permanent head coach after leading the Hoosiers the previous year as the interim after Knight was fired. Six players on IU's roster in the title game had played at least one year for Knight, but many of them had fought for Davis to be hired, too, to maintain some consistency. He was the lead recruiter for most of them, as well. 

The Hoosiers hung with Maryland most of the night, despite not playing their best themselves. Tom Coverdale, who was still not 100 percent because of an ankle injury, was just 3-for-11 from the field and scored eight points. Jeffries was just 4-for-11 himself and also scored eight.

Kyle Hornsby (14) and Fife (11) were the only two Hoosiers in double figures. And when Maryland's Juan Dixon got hot late, the Terrapins went on an 11-0 run and pulled away for the victory. 

"Maryland had some great players, but the whole country was supporting Indiana in that game because we were a group of overachievers, and it had been a while since a team like that had played for a championship,’’ Jeffries said. “We got beat by a better team that night, but I can tell you without question that our team walked out of the Georgia Dome that night with our heads held high.’’

So close, but so far away as well.

"We didn't have the underdog mentality because we were Indiana,'' Fife said. "We knew we were good enough. We trusted each other and understood that if we stayed true to what we were taught, we would have a chance in the end.''

There were two numbers that really stood out to me that night that were the difference between winning and losing.

The first number is TWO. The Hoosiers made just two free throws all night, It's the lowest total in NCAA title game history. Indiana was just 2-for-7 from the line, while Maryland went 20-for-28. That 18-point discrepancy from the line was huge, especially in a game so close.

The second number is SEVEN. That's the number of minutes that A.J. Moye played that night, which wasn't enough. No one was tougher — or had a bigger will to win — than Moye, but he really never got a chance to put his imprint on this game. It's one of the biggest "What if's'' in Indiana history, to me. 

For a team that was never ranked higher than No. 20 all to make that kind of tournament run is still wildly impressive. It's just a shame they couldn't have finished it off on that Monday night in Atlanta.

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