Indiana’s close loss to South Carolina in Sweet Sixteen highlights how bright the future is

  • 03/29/2024 9:30 pm in

ALBANY, NY – Nobody thought Indiana would even be close. The consensus was that Indiana would have to play a perfect game to even compete with No. 1-seed South Carolina and even then the Hoosiers would be lucky to keep the game within 15 points.

The Hoosiers didn’t play a perfect game. But by the end of Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen matchup against the Gamecocks, the final score read 79-75 at MVP Arena. The Hoosiers lost by only one possession and they gave it their all until the final buzzer sounded.

“We’re fighters, and I think we showed that tonight,” Sydney Parrish said. “It put us on the map, and people realize what Indiana basketball is.”

What is Indiana basketball, then? It’s the kind of basketball that people might look past or deem not good enough, but it shows what is possible when a team shares a familial-like bond and wants to prove people wrong.

“We are blue collar,” Teri Moren said. “We play with a chip. We are okay with people giving us an underdog role.”

At halftime, Indiana trailed 49-32. Less than three minutes into the third quarter, South Carolina’s lead had grown to 22 points and Indiana could have given in. That didn’t happen and Parrish played a pivotal role. She led the Hoosiers on an 8-0 run all by herself, giving her teammates the energy to propel them to cut the Gamecocks’ lead to two with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter. It ultimately wasn’t quite enough to bring Indiana a victory, but it was a testament to Indiana’s determination nonetheless.

The Hoosiers outscored the Gamecocks 43-30 in the second half, shooting 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from the perimeter. Their defense forced seven Gamecock turnovers and won the rebounding contest 16-11.

“For us to be able to fight to get back into the game, we won that second half,” Moren said postgame with a sad smile on her face. “We really do have — I believe this — a very special basketball team.”

It’s clear from the tears in the eyes of Moren, Parrish and Holmes in the postgame press conference that there’s a special bond among the Hoosiers. Parrish credited Moren with reigniting her love for basketball and Holmes said the two women beside her on the podium were two of her biggest inspirations.

“Coach Moren has exemplified what a strong woman looks like, what a fearless woman looks like,” Holmes said.

A coach like that greatly benefits a program and the players she leads. So despite the loss, which marked the end of the historic careers of Sara Scalia and Holmes, a great deal of what makes Indiana special isn’t going away any time soon. A respected and loved head coach, two returning fifth-year students and a crop of young, hungry players ensure that.

“You’re always excited when you have chemistry, and ours has been out of this world the last four or five years, and I think it’ll continue,” Moren said. “We have great examples of what good chemistry looks like, and Mackenzie’s been a huge part of that.”

So, too, have Parrish and Chloe Moore-McNeil, who will step into even more significant leadership roles when they return to Bloomington next year. Their presences mean Indiana will continue to have strong chemistry and two determined and passionate leaders.

“She’s as tough as a six-dollar steak,” Moren said about Moore-McNeil. “When it comes to competition and never, ever backing down and never being afraid of the moment — she’s not afraid of the moment. And I’m so grateful she’s coming back.”

Moore-McNeil needed to be especially tough Friday night because she was the underdog alongside every Hoosier who stepped on the floor. That’s how it goes against an undefeated team that physically outmatches everyone. But you wouldn’t have known it. Yarden Garzon and Lilly Meister found ways to move around 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso to pass the ball, grab rebounds and maneuver for layups. Despite only playing for three minutes, Julianna LaMendola gave Indiana its only two bench points as she also showed her prowess in the post. Lexus Bargesser showed complete confidence in taking the ball up the floor and directing traffic when necessary.

All of those players will also be returning next year. They’ll all know what it feels like to come seconds away from a stunning victory, so they’ll want it even more.

“I want them to walk out with their heads held high,” Moren said. “(But) I want it to bother them. And I know it does.”

There’s no question that Indiana will be a different team without Holmes and Scalia. However, the same thing was said last year when Grace Berger graduated and the year prior when Ali Patberg graduated. Indiana has become the kind of program that pumps out humble, hardworking players every year. There’s no reason to believe that will stop now.

“The way we can honor Mackenzie, the way we can honor Grace, the way we can honor the Ali Patbergs that have been in our program is by doing exactly what they do, and they show up and they do more than what’s required,” Moren said. “We can talk about Grace Berger, the career she’s had, the career Mack’s had and so forth. We’ve got great evidence that the way we’re doing things is working for us.”

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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