Game one of the Woodson era is in the books.
The crowd roared its approval when Mike Woodson first walked out on to the Simon Skjodt Assembly floor, and again when he was announced during pre-game introductions.
More the 40 years after he walked off the Branch McCracken Court a Big Ten champion at Indiana, Woodson was back, this time as the man in charge.
Woodson no doubt felt a wave of emotions as he walked to the bench once occupied by his coach, Bob Knight, in front of more than 30 friends and family members, and a cast of former players that included Randy Wittman, Ted Kitchel and Tom Abernethy to name a few. But he was in no mood to make this night a spectacle about his return.
“This is not about me,” Woodson said after the game. “This is about 17 guys that are wearing this uniform that we’re trying to get these guys back on top and teach them how to win basketball games.”
The game itself was also a return for assistant coach Dane Fife, and also those adoring fans, who hadn’t been allowed into the building for a game since March 7, 2020.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis felt the energy of the crowd and believes they helped IU avoid a season-opening upset loss to Eastern Michigan.
“Dang near half of our team has never experienced an Assembly Hall crowd so, just being able to be in front of people and front of fans again, it really helped us,” Jackson-Davis said.
Woodson said he also felt the crowd provided a boost.
“It’s good to be back home, man. The fan base here is like no other fan base,” Woodson said. “They stay in the game all the way from the beginning to the end, and that’s helpful and healthy for our young team as we grow. We’re going to need our fan base.”
While he didn’t want to make the night about him, he does want his team to play the way his own Hoosiers did when they won the Big Ten title in 1980.
“I played here many, many years ago and those were good times man,” Woodson said. “I am just trying to get this team back to where that was back in the day. That would be kind of nice.”
These Hoosiers seemingly have a long way to go to put themselves in the conversation for a league crown. Indiana gave away a 21-point lead and nearly lost to an EMU team ranked No. 297 by KenPom.com before pulling it out, 68-62. But Woodson was also in no mood to be overly critical, choosing instead to take the long view.
“I’m not highly disappointed. I like the way we played in spurts,” Woodson said. … “We were challenged down the home stretch and our guys stepped up and did what they needed to do.”
It was good enough to get the win, which meant a happy return and Woodson could leave with a new prized possession.
“It feels good to be 1-0,” Woodson said. “We have a long way to go, gentlemen, but yes, I will keep that ball as a souvenir.”
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