BLOOMINGTON — Look up any list of the toughest road environments in college basketball and Indiana’s Assembly Hall will inevitably be slotted at the very top. Alternatively, you could just ask Michigan coach John Beilein.
Just six days ago, when the Wolverines fell at Wisconsin, Beilein made sure to remind reporters that, “People don’t lose here because it’s the Kohl Center,” instead praising the Badgers’ on-court product. But this, he explained, was different.
“They have a tremendous home court atmosphere in Bloomington,” Beilein said on Thursday. “… You’re on the road, in an environment, and you’re not comfortable. Then, all of a sudden, you look like a shell of who you can be. And it just happens.”
Beilein’s prediction could hardly have come further from fruition, as Michigan stormed out to a 17-0 lead, reducing the Hoosier faithful to a stunned silence.
“I love that,” said freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis after the game. “One of my favorite parts of basketball is shutting the crowd down. I love going on the road.”
Anticipating that boisterous home crowd that Beilein referenced, I perched myself in the middle of Indiana’s student section, planning to write about the challenge the Wolverines would have to overcome.
Before the game even tipped off, I realized that angle might not hold up. As the students struggled to fill the upper reaches of their allotted section, I turned to Justin, the kid next to me, and expressed my surprise at the attendance.
“Yeah dude we suck,” Justin said, explaining that he didn’t think the Hoosiers had a chance of toppling fifth-ranked Michigan.
Within minutes, it became clear that he wasn’t alone.
When junior center Jon Teske followed Brazdeikis’ game-opening three with a rejection at the rim on Indiana’s first possession, it drew a cacophony of frustration.
“Classic IU start, we’ll be down 7-0 before we score,” predicted Caleb, an out-of-state sophomore who grew up a Duke fan.
Turns out his estimate sold the Wolverines 10 points short.
7-0 came and passed on a wing three from sophomore Jordan Poole, before Brazdeikis made it with 10 by driving past Hoosier guard Zach McRoberts, a common target of fan criticism.
“Fuck this motherfucker,” sounded a voice behind me, who spent the rest of the evening proclaiming that McRoberts “should not be on this team.”
After a turnover on Indiana’s next possession, that voice — belonging to Connor, a freshman from Chicago — offered up his only bit of optimism for the night, even if it came doused in a heavy dose of sarcasm.
“We’re really good guys, I swear we’re really good,” he said, as Michigan took possession.
Seconds later, junior guard Zavier Simpson snuck behind the Hoosier defense to score an uncontested layup and make it 12-0.
Connor’s next words?
“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!”
The dismay returned after the under-16 media timeout — highlighted by Connor exclaiming, “Wow we have a good team at this school. Who knew?” when the jumbotron introduced the Hoosiers’ national champion cheer team — when Indiana forward Juwan Morgan bounced a pass off the courtside advertising boards.
As the Wolverines got the ball back, another voice behind me pled for Michigan to “Just hit a fucking dagger. End our misery right now.”
Redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews promptly obliged, draining a wing three to put the Wolverines up 15-0. The misery, though, did not end there.
“Just give me one bucket please,” Connor begged two possessions later, after the deficit had ballooned to 17. His pleas were predictably met by the Hoosiers’ fourth turnover in five possessions.
“It’s just an inept offense,” said Indiana coach Archie Miller after the game, providing a cleaner version of the students’ dismay. “Inept. I mean, you can’t get down 20-2 against Michigan.”
Though a pair of free throws got the Hoosiers on the scoreboard at the 12:57 mark, the frustration persisted.
The jumbotron — seemingly dedicated to distracting Indiana fans from their misery — provided a look at the school’s new $17 million dollar wrestling arena, as the students rained scattered boos toward the announcement.
“Can we please put our money toward a new basketball team?” Connor pleaded. “Thank you!”
As an and-one from Brazdeikis expanded Michigan’s lead yet again, the student section’s despair turned macro.
“Can’t wait to lose our tournament bid,” shouted someone a few rows back.
“To the NIT?” Caleb responded — a thought that would have seemed insane just six games ago, when Indiana went to Ann Arbor ranked 21st in the country. It hasn’t won since.
So, when an Aljami Durham airball prompted the kid in front of me to order an Uber before the halftime buzzer had even sounded, it was hard to blame him.
A few plays later, the girl to my right made her way to the exit and never returned. At halftime, a steady exodus followed.
And unless they really wanted to be present for a resounding chorus of “Fuck you” and “Fuck this,” they didn’t miss much.