It was close. Too close for the Hoosiers in their 56-55 win over the Princeton Tigers.
After blowing a 10-point halftime lead, and seeing a last-second shot hit the back of the net, Indiana was fortunate enough to come away with a victory. The Hoosiers shot just 7-of-19 in the second half. They also allowed eight offensive rebounds.
But, none of that matters. The name of the game is survive and advance.
“As I said to our guys, if I told you that they got 20 more shots than we did and we still won the game, would you believe that, and they said, yeah, I would, or we would,” said head coach Teri Moren. “But again, give Princeton credit.”
To start the game, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary sparked the offense. She opened the game with a three-pointer and commanded the offense. The point guard led the team with 10 points in the first half and three assists.
The Tigers kept it close with the Hoosiers for most of the first half. Then Chloe Moore-McNeil sparked another run with her second three-pointer of the night. Then the breakout star confidently drove the lane in transition and finished the layup.
After having four turnovers within the opening quarter and a half, Grace Berger showed up. She connected on three pull-up jumpers for six points. The duo led the Hoosiers to a 13-4 run to take the 10-point lead heading into halftime. They combined for 11 of those points on that run.
The defense also managed to force Princeton to convert on just one of their last nine attempts and no field goals within the last three and a half minutes of the first half. After converting on all three of their three-point attempts in the first quarter, Princeton was 0-of-6 from deep.
But then the offense hit a wall. Indiana could not get the ball in the basket. They shot just 3-of-11 in the third quarter with just six total points. The Hoosiers failed to score in the last four minutes of the quarter as Princeton went on a 13-2 run. The 10-point lead was cut to just three.
“I think that we knew they were going to make a run; they’re a really good team,” said Mackenzie Holmes.
“So it was just a matter of kind of just not freaking out, and like Coach Moren said, we’re a veteran team so we’ve been in these positions before, honestly, whether it’s in practice playing against our black squad or whether it’s in a game, and we’ve been in these situations. So I think we were ready and didn’t panic when they started to make a little bit of a run.”
The fourth quarter would not get any better. Despite opening with back-to-back baskets from Holmes, the offense would hit another four-minute scoring drought that contained four turnovers in that span.
Still, the Hoosiers were able to make the winning plays to secure a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. With under a minute left and a tie game, Berger drove the lane and flipped up a floater. It rolled around the rim before falling for the two most crucial of her 15 points. Then on the defensive end, Ali Patberg came away with a steal to secure the win.
The team raced to the student section to celebrate with their peers. The impact of playing at home could be felt with a crowd of 9,627, third most in the history of the women’s program. Then they raced over to their coach and raised her over their heads victoriously.
Head coach Teri Moren came into the press room soaking wet with a towel in her hand. No doubt the celebration continued in the locker room.
“I wanted them to know how much we appreciate them being there and showing up tonight, and I thought — I went up to Coach Moren and I’m like, Can we go thank them? She’s like, yeah. And then I ran over there, and I was like, screw it, I’m going to go run up and I’m going to go high-five them and make them feel like they’re part of this victory because they are. We couldn’t have done this without them, and I want them to keep showing up for us,” Holmes said of the moment.
For Moren and Co., it is their second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance. Last season, they defeated North Carolina State to advance to the Elite Eight before falling to Arizona.
The Hoosiers will face UConn on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn at 2 p.m. Eastern.
“It’s unbelievable. I mean, playing for IU means everything for me, and I remember four years ago we were just struggling to even get in the tournament, and then we got that win and it was huge for us. So now to see us get to the Sweet 16 two years in a row, it’s just really special,” said Berger.
“And it’s something that never gets old, and I just hope that we can keep going for our seniors.”
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