INDIANAPOLIS — It was an eerie night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and for the most part it didn’t seem like there was really a basketball game going on.
Yes, No. 11 seed Indiana won 89-64 over No. 14 Nebraska in its opening round game of the Big Ten Tournament. That win will also very well likely seal a berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
At the same time, chaos was breaking loose. COVID-19, better known as coronavirus, continually made its presence known throughout the night and earlier in the day as well with Twitter erupting and news dropping constantly.
“I told our team that that happened, and we’ll brace ourselves for what happens next,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “I think it’s an evolving situation, and it’s rapid, but it puts it into reality of the seriousness of it. When world experts start to recommend things, you obviously better listen.”
Specifically, in IU’s case, opposing head coach Fred Hoiberg of Nebraska left the game with a few minutes left to go to the hospital and the remainder of the Big Ten Tournament was announced to be spectator-free during the Northwestern-Minnesota game prior.
The Nebraska players were briefly held in their locker room as a precaution while Hoiberg was treated at the hospital. They were released after Hoiberg was diagnosed with the flu — not coronavirus.
Official update on Fred Hoiberg. Thank goodness. pic.twitter.com/g4jib2yRkg
— Robin Washut (@RobinWashut) March 12, 2020
Additionally, numerous schools were suspending in-person classes, the NBA suspended its season, Tom Hanks and Rudy Gobert both tested positive for the virus, the NCAA suspended all fans from attending any NCAA Tournament games among it all.
Indiana made a statement — as expected — with a win against Nebraska in Indianapolis. But there’s a bigger issue at play.@ConnorHines17 on a very convincing #B1GTourney win and a very strange night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for #iubb: pic.twitter.com/YhVmNsN3Ua
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 12, 2020
With all of the news constantly circulating about updates on the coronavirus, the game seemed of secondary importance.
There were plenty of cheers, but there were a whole lot of fans checking their phones and an overall disconnected feeling from the game to the crowd was present.
Once again, it felt beyond weird to be playing a basketball game in the moment. With a paltry number of fans in attendance and everyone’s focus elsewhere, IU’s first win in the Big Ten Tournament since 2017 was an afterthought.
The reality is though, there was a game played — the last fan attended Big Ten sporting event of the 2019-2020 school year in Indiana’s handling of Nebraska.
A much-needed win
In short, the Hoosiers took care of business when they absolutely needed to. After losing three of their last four to end the regular season, the Hoosiers couldn’t afford to lose in the first round of the conference tournament to preserve their perceived spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“This closes the chapter of the first one, which is always the hardest, and now the energy level and the adrenaline and feeling good about yourself, playing in postseason, you know, is upon you,” Miller said.
Nebraska entered the game on a 16-game losing streak with two of its top three scorers in Cam Mack and Dachon Burke suspended, and added two football players in Noah Verdal and Brant Banks to the roster to provide some depth.
A loss to the Cornhuskers could have decimated Indiana’s momentum and overall perception to the NCAA Tournament committee. It avoided that in a big way.
In the first half, Nebraska put up a fight, owning the lead from 7:07 to 2:57. Then, at the 2:30 mark Indiana freshman Armaan Franklin hit a 3-pointer to take the lead which boosted IU for the rest of the game, as it never lost the lead again.
“They made their runs during the half, got us a little bit stationary at times, but I thought overall our guys responded and were able to finish the game in a big way,” Miller said.
Franklin was a key contributor against the Cornhuskers. The freshman finished with a team-high 13 points and eight rebounds. It was his best game, and only game where he scored double-digits, since the Notre Dame win where he had a career-high 17 points and hit the game-winning 3-pointer. That game was also in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Franklin’s standout performance along with Devonte Green and Al Durham’s 12 and 11 points, respectively, defined a great collective effort from the guards. Phinisee also finished with nine points and seven assists. The four guards hit all nine of Indiana’s 3-pointers.
The excellent guard play coupled with Trayce Jackson-Davis’ dominant double-double of 11 points and 17 rebounds is what defined IU’s best offensive showing since the Iowa win Feb. 13.
Ultimately, it was the needed performance for Indiana’s goal to reach the 2020 NCAA Tournament, a dominant win over a far short-handed team.
If things follow normal circumstance, Indiana will play the No. 6 seed of the tournament, Penn State, Thursday on the nightcap.
Whether Indiana does play, or even gets a chance to actually play in the big dance with everything going on in the world right now with the coronavirus, remains to be seen.
“I think we’re all crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, which is allowing us to continue to play,” Miller said. “But like I said, when experts speak up, you’d better listen.”