One week before resurgent Indiana makes its return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years, the Hoosiers lost one of the key pillars of their rebuilding process.
An MRI taken Friday morning confirmed that the right knee injury point guard Verdell Jones suffered the previous day against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament was indeed a torn ACL. The senior will miss the rest of the postseason, meaning that his career at Indiana is over.
"This is heartbreaking news," Indiana coach Tom Crean said in a statement released by the school. "His contribution to our program over the course of his career, and especially this season, is immeasurable. He was playing his best basketball and really had embraced his role on this team as a player and as a leader.
"We are proud of the career he has had at Indiana University and he, as much as anyone, deserved the opportunity to enjoy everything we have worked so hard for and are experiencing as a team. We appreciate all the prayers that have been said on his behalf."
Jones sustained the injury in the first half on Thursday when he jump stopped at the free throw line and quickly collapsed to the floor in visible pain. A sprained right knee was the initial diagnosis pending the results of the MRI, however, it was clear that a ligament tear was a possibility from the way Jones couldn't put any weight on his leg as teammates Kory Barnett and Austin Etherington carried him to the locker room.
The absence of Jones deprives Indiana of a veteran leader who has emerged as one of the team's better defenders this season to compensate for his scoring average dropping as a result of the increased talent around him. Jones has averaged 7.5 points and 3.2 assists as a senior, helping lead Indiana to a 25-7 record this season.
With Jones unavailable, it likely means Victor Oladipo will have to handle the ball more and run the offense and freshman Remy Abell will have to play a bigger role off the bench. Abell shined in a 13-point effort against Purdue when Jones was hurt briefly last month, but he has played sparingly most of the season.
Regardless of how Indiana fares without Jones, it's a shame he won't be able to experience playing in the NCAA tournament. He worked hard for four years to get the Hoosiers back there and he should be able to enjoy the fruits of that labor.
More college basketball coverage on Yahoo! Sports: