Late-game heroics from Mackenzie Holmes lead Indiana to Sweet Sixteen

  • 03/26/2024 8:23 am in

Moments before Indiana tipped off its round of 32 NCAA tournament game against Oklahoma Monday night, Mackenzie Holmes had one final message to her team: no regrets.

It was her final game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, and she wanted to leave it all out on the court. She also didn’t want to lose.

None of the Hoosiers did. So, they didn’t. In a fourth-quarter comeback, Indiana took down Oklahoma 75-68 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in four years.

“I thought the team that wanted it the most was going to win it tonight,” Teri Moren said. “And I thought that clearly, especially in the fourth, they were a team that really wanted to win.”

Heading into the fourth quarter, Indiana trailed 48-46. It was only two points, but it might as well have been 10. Holmes, such a crucial part of Indiana’s energy, had struggled the whole night. She had 17 points but was only 7-for-17 from the field, and every time one of her layups rolled the wrong way off the rim, the energy in Assembly Hall took a hit.

But with 10 minutes left in her final game in Bloomington, Holmes came out with a different kind of look in her eye. It was one of hunger, determination and fearlessness. She was going to get a win, and nothing was going to get in her way.

The rest of her team knew it. They let her have her moment.

“It’s Mackenzie Holmes, she’s the best post player in the country,” Lenée Beaumont said. “We knew when we were down, she was going to take over and do whatever it takes to win, and that’s just how she’s always been.”

It’s been a hallmark of Holmes’ career; when she has to, she takes over. Holmes finished the night with 29 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter as she scored bucket after bucket to keep Indiana alive. Throughout the night, Indiana struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm, especially against Oklahoma’s strong presence in the post. So when Holmes started to hit a groove, there was no one else Indiana wanted to get the ball to.

“She was struggling, missing shots that she normally makes,” Moren said. “But when we needed her to step up in the biggest moment, she stepped up.”

Holmes knew firsthand what it felt to lose in a tournament game in Assembly Hall, as Indiana lost to Miami in last year’s Round of 32 matchup to end Grace Berger’s career. Never again, she said.

“I know how it felt last year, we all know how it felt last year, and I was going to do everything in my power to not let that happen again,” Holmes said. “I just have a really great team full of people who believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself and I think that’s the difference maker.”

Holmes never gave up, and because of it, she got to lead her team to the Sweet Sixteen. She also got to lead her team into the eagerly awaiting student section after the game, like she did two years ago when Indiana beat Princeton in Assembly Hall to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

“I just wanted to take it all in,” Holmes said. “They’re the best fans in the country and I’ve been so blessed every second I’ve gotten to play in the Hall and I’ll never take those moments for granted. The memories I’ll take with me for the rest of my life and Assembly Hall is my favorite place in the world, so to be able to do that one more time was so special.”

When Holmes reached the top of the staircase, she turned and hugged Sara Scalia, who had also just played her final game in Assembly Hall. Despite being heavily guarded by Oklahoma for the entire game, Scalia finished with 12 points thanks to clutch free throws in the fourth quarter.

Scalia had seen the video of Holmes leading the Hoosiers into the crowd two years ago before she transferred to Indiana. She didn’t think about it again until Holmes asked Moren if she could do it again, but was right up there in front when it happened.

“It was definitely special because Indiana, we have a special fanbase here,” Scalia said. “It was awesome.”

Scalia, like Holmes, was another example of Indiana’s pure determination to do whatever was necessary to stay alive in the tournament. Even if she wasn’t scoring, she was being pesky on defense or setting screens for other players. So, too, were the rest of the Hoosiers, each contributing in their own way. From cheering on the bench, calling out plays, dishing out passes, and grabbing rebounds, every Hoosier gave it their all. They all remembered what Holmes had told them before the game.

“It’s win or go home,” Julianna LaMendola said. “I think it would kill every single one of us in here if we didn’t play any game without any regrets.”

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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