After a tumultuous season that featured a midseason coaching change, Indiana sent its seniors out on a positive note in their final home game at Assembly Hall.
It would love to do the same on the road, while making amends for its last performance away from Bloomington.
The No. 18 Hoosiers travel to Penn State on Sunday - their first road game since a 29-point loss a week ago - looking to lock up the second seed in the Big Ten tournament.
Wisconsin won the conference outright Saturday at Northwestern, meaning that Indiana (25-5, 14-3) can finish no higher than second place. Win or lose against the Nittany Lions (14-15, 6-11), the Hoosiers will have a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
If they need any added motivation to earn the No. 2 seed, interim coach Dan Dakich and his team need only look at the tournament’s history. In the 10 years the Big Ten has staged a postseason tournament, the second seed has won five of them.
The No. 3 seed - which Indiana would fall to with a loss and a Purdue win at Michigan on Sunday - has never won the tournament, and has been eliminated in its first game six times, including last year, when the Hoosiers fell 58-54 in overtime to sixth-seeded Illinois.
Indiana comes into the Bryce Jordan Center having experienced a pendulum of emotions over the past seven days. The Hoosiers began the week on Sunday with a 103-74 loss at Michigan State, their most lopsided defeat since a 79-45 loss at Wisconsin on Jan. 6, 2004.
“They played great and we did not and that’s my fault,” Dakich said after the loss to the Spartans. “If I’m going to be the guy that everybody pats on the back when things go well, then I’m going to be the guy that accepts it when things don’t.”
Wednesday was senior night in Bloomington, and forward D.J. White put up another solid performance in his final home game, scoring 17 points - exactly his average for the season.
“A couple of tears fell,” White said. “Last time here, great fans, great crowd. I’ll miss it a lot.”
But another Hoosier who might be playing for the last time in Bloomington led the way. Freshman Eric Gordon - expected to enter the NBA draft at season’s end - scored 20 in the win, including 12-of-14 from the foul line. Gordon has attempted 73 more free throws than anyone in the conference, and is in the top 10 nationally in attempts per game.
Gordon (21.3 points per game) and White are the Big Ten’s two leading scorers. White leads the conference in rebounds (10.2 per game).
Gordon had 25 points and White 22 when then-No.9 Indiana beat Penn State 81-65 on Jan. 20.
Penn State seemed to be headed for a promising season, winning its first two Big Ten game on the road, but injuries have derailed the Nittany Lions, who haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2000-01.
Geary Claxton trailed only Gordon in points per game prior to tearing his ACL on Jan. 15, and without his 17.5-point average, Penn State has dropped nine of 13 conference games.
It had won back-to-back games before falling 77-41 at No. 10 Wisconsin on Wednesday. Penn State was missing Jamelle Cornley (12.1 ppg), who didn’t make the trip because of a left knee injury.
It’s unclear if Cornley will suit up against the Hoosiers.
If Cornley can’t go, Penn State will have to rely more on freshman guard Talor Battle. Battle, who had 20 in his first meeting with the Hoosiers, is averaging 19.0 points in his last two games.
Indiana has won 18 of 20 overall against the Nittany Lions, but Penn State has won two of four at home.