Chloe Moore-McNeil earned her first career double-double on Feb. 6 in a 64-57 win over Purdue. She just didn’t know it yet.
Rather, as the final buzzer beeped in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and the team rushed to embrace one another, Moore-McNeil felt the shadow of IU forward Kiandra Browne dawn upon her, running up from behind.
“You just got a double-double!” Browne said.
Moore-McNeil’s eyes widened; she stepped away from the team’s celebration to respond, “Wait...what?”
Everyone seemed to have known but her, as seconds later you’d see Moore-McNeil being escorted into the media room for her very first postgame interview.
“Then I had to go to the media…” Moore-McNeil said. “I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know about this.’”
In light of Moore-McNeil’s basketball maturation this season, talking to the media may just be something she’s going to have to get used to. Through all of Indiana’s ups and downs – postponed games due to COVID-19, forward Mackenzie Holmes knee injury – Moore-McNeil has maximized her opportunities and developed into a player who can help IU in the NCAA Tournament and projects to be a key asset for years to come.
Not only did the fifth highest attendance in the history of IU women’s basketball come on National Women in Sports Day, but it was the second contest the Hoosiers won over in-state rival Purdue this season– one where Moore-McNeil posted 11 points and 10 rebounds.
In the final few minutes of the first half, Moore-McNeil clutched an offensive rebound from a missed charity shot. She swiftly moved the ball and cut to the corner. Senior guard Grace Berger had the ball with less than three minutes to go. Scanning from wing to wing, she found Moore-McNeil beyond the arc for an open triple. The shot fell – surging Indiana’s momentum from there.
This put the Hoosiers up by 10 with 2:13 remaining – the largest lead of the game up until that point, thanks to Moore-McNeil. Senior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary led Indiana with 19 points, but when asked about Moore-McNeil’s play during postgame, she couldn’t help but chuckle – looking to her left at Moore-McNeil in pride.
“How much time you got? I could go forever,” Cardaño-Hillary said. “...Chloe not only gives us energy on defense, but on offense – she's knocking down every shot.”
Coincidentally, Moore-McNeil’s best game earlier in the season was the first Purdue matchup where she got her first career start and played for 43 minutes. Considering how she played an average of only 7.3 minutes last season, playing 40 plus minutes in the early games of her second year was quite the jump.
“I knew I had to play a bigger role,” Moore-McNeil said. “...it just hadn’t hit me yet.”
She may not have realized it at the time, but those 43 minutes up in West Lafayette were pivotal – spawning the Moore-McNeil we see today. It was the hardest game of her career to date, she said, especially with the absence of Cardaño-Hillary and Holmes, but it immensely aided in her growth throughout the remainder of this season. Now averaging 20 plus minutes per game, she doesn’t necessarily feel pressure, but rather a duty to hold herself accountable as Indiana’s next man up.
“Not going to lie, if we had lost (the first Purdue game) I would’ve been like: ‘Wow, this is kind of my fault you know, first game starting,’” Moore-McNeil said. “Fortunately, that didn’t happen.”
In every game leading up to the first Purdue meeting, we saw Moore-McNeil taking shots – from the top of the key, to the point, to the low post. Her range and willingness to shoot were never in question. But at the same time, almost none were falling. The first Purdue game, where she grabbed 10 points and six rebounds, reassured her that she can produce off the bench, she can shoot.
Being discouraged takes less effort than trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and head coach Teri Moren has said multiple times that she will never let her women fall into that dark hole. With Moore-McNeil’s teammates and coaches constantly in her ear – telling her, “those shots will fall, we need those shots, keep taking those shots,” Moore-McNeil recalled – it didn’t take long for a poised shooter to resurface.
“Several times in practice when I’ve hesitated to shoot the ball or I miss, I’m just like, ‘I don’t even know if I should shoot that again,’” Moore-McNeil said.
Moren’s response to that?
“Be confident in your shot and just stick it, you have to have that faith in yourself that it will go in.”
And on the week of the Big Ten Tournament, that faith came to fruition.
On March 6, Indiana played in the Big Ten Championship for the first time in 20 years, knocking off top-seeded Ohio State to get there. But, if Moore-McNeil didn’t step up the way she did that afternoon – defensively and offensively – who knows if Indiana would’ve beaten Ohio State.
A Moore-McNeil jumper was the first bucket of the semifinal game against the Buckeyes, and she really didn’t quit after that – ultimately paramounting Indiana’s momentum for the entire first half and playing all but two minutes of the game. She ended with 11 points going into the second half, three rebounds, and forced four turnovers. All her efforts – from early mornings to late nights in the Hall before, and after practice, were apparent that day.
For the first time in 20 years, Indiana will play for a B1G Championship.
However, it would be the contributions from Chloe Moore-McNeil that would lift the Hoosiers over Ohio State.
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“Chloe stepped up in a big kind of way,” Moren said postgame. “...she did so many great things. I just love how she came out, it was like her hair was on fire.”
The last question asked to Moren after the semifinal game was about Moore-McNeil’s growth as of late. Before responding, tears were already beginning to well up her blue eyes. It’s no secret that Moren and the entire team are proud of Moore-McNeil, but the cause of that emotion stems from what they see her do every day outside of practice.
Because, beyond the candy striped walls of the Hall, is where it all began for Moore-McNeil.
A Tennessee town with little over 1,000 people by the name of Sharon is where you may have seen a young Moore-McNeil bored to death in the batter’s box, or sitting around in the field, kicking dirt.
It didn't take much time to realize that tee-ball – the first sport she tried – was too monotonous for her liking.
She was seeking something fast, something intense.
Shortly after her tee-ball retirement, she realized that the game of basketball was already in her blood, just as it was in her fathers’ and aunts’, who also played basketball.
Coming from a quaint town about two hours north of Memphis, Moore-McNeil took advantage of every basketball opportunity Sharon had to offer. Meaning, she joined AAU – The Amateur Athletic Union – for the opportunity to travel outside of Sharon to compete with the country’s best.
In terms of AAU, Moore-McNeil’s father, Tory McNeil, was the lone head coach for the majority of her life. He was there always, Moore-McNeil said, whether she liked it or not.
“If I did something wrong and he’s telling me…it’s more of like a, ‘whatever dad’ kind of thing,’” Moore-McNeil said. “But, he was just helping my game grow.”
That “whatever dad” mentality didn’t necessarily shift over to IU her freshman year, as Teri Moren would take the place of coach McNeil from then on out.
Being coached by a woman for the first time, without even meeting her face-to-face, were two thrilling unknowns for Moore-McNeil, but unknowns that she was willing to wade into.
“Just my father being my coach to coach Moren, a female coach, was pretty exciting,” Moore-McNeil said.
Considering how she committed to IU based solely on Zoom interactions, without ever visiting the campus, begs the question of…how? Why Indiana?
Well, for Moore-McNeil, the Hoosiers offered something that others did not. The women on the roster were constantly reaching out, checking up on her, updating her on everything.
“It wasn’t just a recruiting process kind of thing,” Moore-McNeil said. “I felt like these girls could be family for me.”
Indiana was open and honest with Moore-McNeil from the get go, and that’s really all she was looking for — people who were going to be frank and wanted to help build her basketball IQ.
Cardaño-Hillary has been a huge influence to Moore-McNeil, upholding these promises since she arrived in Bloomington. Through all the adversity this season, she has challenged Moore-McNeil, refusing to let her faith fall subject to uncontrollable woes.
“If I don’t shoot the ball, she’s (Cardaño-Hillary) yelling at me to shoot it,” Moore-McNeil said. “She’ll let me know, ‘Hey, do this next time and I’ll be right there,’ backing me up and giving me more and more confidence.”
Moore-McNeil’s approach to playing basketball has never changed, but Indiana has widened her perspective of what the game means, beyond the technical.
This season specifically has allowed her to become mentally prepared for anything. Three out of the starting five will no longer be here next season, and Moore-McNeil says she knows it will be different and something that will come with nerves. But after this season, she feels primed for her bigger role.
This confidence hasn’t always been there, though. When first arriving at IU, she wasn’t as sure of herself, and it took the kindness of teammates like Cardaño-Hillary to convince her that she belonged.
A brisk wind cushioned the air on Dec. 31, 2020. The entire IU women’s basketball program chose to stay in for the night, dancing around Holmes and sophomore center Arielle Wisne’s place.
The bass from Kesha’s “Die Young” bounced off the walls as everyone belted out the lyrics, ringing in the new year.
Everything felt safe. Everything felt familiar. The atmosphere that night just felt right.
“It was one of those special bonding moments,'' Moore-McNeil said. “It made me feel like we really were a family.”
Though she didn’t realize it at the time, that night served as a blueprint for the way she can lead next season and carry on Indiana’s culture of creating a family atmosphere that extends beyond the court.