The tears were flowing, the jerseys were framed and the flowers given to parents were fully bloomed as Race Thompson and Parker Stewart waved goodbye to the Assembly Hall crowd for, potentially, the last time.
Just like 10 times prior this season, Indiana lost. This time, just before the buzzer in heartbreaking fashion to a scrappy Rutgers team fighting for a bid in the big dance, just like the Hoosiers, 66-63.
Many had deemed Wednesday night's Senior Day matchup as a “win and you’re in” deal, but just like many times before, Indiana just couldn’t finish.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 3, 2022
I could sit here on my laptop for the 11th time in the 2021-22 season and say Indiana could have shot better from 3 or done a better job defending Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. down the stretch, but I’m not going to do that this time.
With all the chaos, coaching changes and late February, early March Hoosier blunders the past six years, it’s important to see the faces and perspectives of those who have lived it from the inside.
While it may be frustrating for fans to see the games end the same way over and over again, and while it may be frustrating for fans to feel uncompetitive in a conference that the Hoosiers dominated for so long, there’s nothing better than watching a player give their all for the program.
This time, it’s Race Thompson and Parker Stewart.
Their journeys to get to Indiana are far from similar, but they’re there and they’re brothers.
“I love y’all, y’all my brothers for life,” a teary-eyed Thompson said in his Senior Day speech.
Thompson came as a pudgy 18-year old from Plymouth, Minnesota. Thompson decided to forgo his senior year of high school and come to Indiana as Archie Miller’s first recruit. In his time at Indiana, Thompson developed his body and game into becoming one of the most consistent players on the roster. Since the beginning of last year, Thompson has started in all 56 games.
On the other side, Parker Stewart dealt with something unimaginable to most his age, the unexpected loss of his father just last year. His father, who was also Stewart’s coach at UT Martin, took a large part in developing Stewart as a player and young man over the years.
“And thank you to my father for giving me this dream and teaching me how to play the game I love,” Stewart said in his pre-recorded Senior Day speech.
Eventually, Stewart’s journey took him to Indiana last season and it has become his home.
“I chose IU because it felt right,” Stewart said. “When coach [Kenya] Hunter was recruiting me, he had just lost his father and I had lost mine too, so we related well.”
They may not be superstars in college basketball and might not go on to be superstars in the NBA but at the end of the day they’re people, students, brothers and sons.
"It hurts because you wanna win for Race and Parker,” Mike Woodson said postgame. “I remember 43 years ago playing my last game here and winning a Big Ten title."
The loss does and will continue to hurt Hoosier fans, and so will not making the tournament for the sixth year in a row, if that turns out to be the case. But the light at the end of the tunnel is seeing the impact the players made on the program, the fans and all of the people involved.
A loss isn’t always just a loss, in this case in particular, as it holds the weight of Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but the time, dedication and effort put in by Thompson and Stewart deserve to be celebrated more than any win does.