Indiana men’s basketball is one of the storied programs in all of college basketball, but it hasn’t been a great last couple of decades for the Hoosiers. For a program that expects to contend regularly for national titles, it’s experiencing a long national semifinals drought. But when was the last time Indiana men’s basketball went to the Final Four?
Indiana Men’s Basketball’s Last Final Four Appearance
The last time Indiana went to the Final Four was 19 years ago in 2002. Mike Davis was the team’s head coach, piloting the team in his second season. In his first campaign in charge, the Hoosiers went 21-13 with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Heading into the 2001-02 season, Indiana was ranked No. 22 in the preseason AP Poll, one of four Big Ten teams in the opening ranking. The team returned sophomore Jared Jeffries, who was Indiana’s second-leading scorer the season before, Tom Coverdale, Kyle Hornsby, Dane Fife, and other key pieces.
Jeffries was the team’s top point-getter in 2001-02, averaging 15.0 points per game, along with 7.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks per outing, too. Coverdale was next at 11.9 points per night and 4.8 assists per game, while Jarrad Odle (8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game), Fife (8.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game), and Jeff Newton (8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game) were some of the other major contributors.
To start the year, Indiana narrowly escaped a road date at C-USA’s Charlotte, 65-61, to begin 1-0. The team then played three games as part of the 2001 Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska, first blasting the hosting University of Alaska-Anchorage, 101-66, before falling to Marquette, 50-49, in the next round. The Hoosiers faced Texas in the event’s third-place game, outlasting the Longhorns, 77-71, to set a 3-1 mark early on.
Even though it was a pretty terrible season in Chapel Hill, a win at North Carolina is always fun. The Hoosiers handled UNC on the road, 79-66, in their next game after Alaska, then lost at Southern Illinois, 72-60, on Dec. 1, 2001. Finally, three days later, Indiana played its first home game of the season. It turned out to be a memorable one – a one-point squeaker over Notre Dame, 76-75, in Assembly Hall.
“Indiana led the entire game at Assembly Hall and was up by as much as 14 in the first half,” Mike Schumann wrote of the game in 2019 for The Daily Hoosier. “The Irish refused to go away and got within two points with just under a minute remaining. Tom Coverdale hit some big late free throws to seal it. It was Indiana’s seventh win in a row over ND, and 12th in the last 13 games. Jared Jeffries led IU with 28. Chris Thomas led Notre Dame with 24.”
Indiana played its first ranked opponent of the season next by welcoming No. 15 Ball State to Assembly Hall and dealt with the Cardinals comfortably, 74-61. The Hoosiers were 6-2 heading into the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic against Miami (FL). It didn’t go as planned, though, as the Hurricanes stifled Indiana, 58-53. IU followed that up with a large defeat to No. 7 Kentucky in a rivalry meeting between the two programs in Indianapolis, 66-52. After a win against Eastern Washington and a neutral-site defeat to No. 23 Butler, 66-64, Indiana was just 7-5 by the start of the conference schedule.
Indiana began Big Ten play with a 59-44 victory at Northwestern and rode that momentum to win three more in a row over Penn State, No. 25 Michigan State, and at No. 13 Iowa. A loss at Ohio State, 73-67, broke the triumphant run, but the Hoosiers rattled off three more Ws to follow: at Penn State, at home to No. 9 Illinois, 88-57, in a giant victory for the team, and a win in Bloomington against hated Purdue, 66-52, on Jan. 31, 2002. By that point, Indiana was 14-6 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten, right in the thick of a regular season conference title race.
An 88-74 failure at Minnesota broke the win streak, but two convincing wins at home over Iowa and Louisville – the team’s third C-USA opponent of the season – got Indiana back on the right track. A narrow defeat to Wisconsin, 64-63, in Bloomington on Feb. 13, 2002, was a setback as the Badgers were one of the other contenders for the Big Ten regular season championship, but again the Hoosiers bounced back. Victories at Michigan and at home over No. 19 Ohio State helped right the course and give Indiana an 18-8 overall record and 11-3 Big Ten mark.
To close the regular season, Indiana lost twice on the road – at Michigan State, 57-54, and at No. 15 Illinois, 70-62, in a huge game for the conference championship. But the Hoosiers found a way to take care of Northwestern at home, 79-67, in their final regular season game, finishing their Big Ten slate at 11-5, good enough to split the title with Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio State (though Ohio State would later vacate the season). It was the program’s first piece of a conference championship since 1993.
Big Ten Tournament
Indiana took the No. 4 seed into the 2002 Big Ten Tournament, losing all tiebreakers to the other three teams it shared the regular season title with. The Hoosiers knocked off No. 5 seed Michigan State, 67-56, in the quarterfinals to face No. 9 seed Iowa in the semifinals after the Hawkeyes upset top-seeded Wisconsin in the round before. Indiana would fall victim to a surprising Iowa run, 62-60, after Luke Recker wrecked Hoosier hearts in the game’s final seconds.
The tournament committee gave Indiana the No. 5 seed in the South Region for its 20-11 record, the 17th year in a row the program appeared in the NCAA Tournament dating back to 1986. The Hoosiers were paired with No. 12 seed Utah, one of the final teams to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Indiana smashed the Utes, 75-56, behind a 19-point, eight-rebound performance from Tom Coverdale and 15 points off the bench via Jeff Newton to move on to the second round. It was Indiana’s first tournament win in three years.
No. 13 seed UNC-Wilmington matched up with Indiana in the second round after upsetting No. 4 seed USC in overtime in the first round. The Seahawks put up a much better fight than Utah as Brett Blizzard gashed the Hoosiers for 29 points and Anthony Terrell put up a double-double on 13 points and 13 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough. Jared Jeffries had 22 on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and Indiana’s bench combined for 28 points to give the Hoosier’s their first trip back to the Sweet 16 since 1994, 76-67.
Duke, the No. 1 seed in the South and the top-ranked team in the nation for most of the season, was Indiana’s Sweet 16 opponent. With names like Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, and Chris Duhon, the Blue Devils were one of the favorites to win another national title to defend their supremacy in 2001. But Jeffries and the Hoosiers had other ideas.
“I just remember that whole week before and everybody was counting us out,” A.J. Moye, who was a sophomore guard for Indiana in 2002, told Tom Brew of Hoosiers Now in 2016. “Everybody was saying something, and they weren’t even interviewing me. And I just got pissed. And that’s when I said what I said – ‘It’s not like they’re the University of Jesus Christ and we’re playing the Twelve Disciples. It’s just Duke. Duke is just a name on a jersey.’
“I remember Coach Davis and the media relations people telling me, ‘You can’t speak to the media anymore,'” he continued. “It was funny, but it was true. And I remember when I said that, thinking, ‘Well we’ve got to go out and prove it now.'”
Moye, who averaged just 5.9 points per game for the season, scored 14 points off the bench against Duke, including an 8-of-10 mark from the free-throw line. But he wasn’t alone. Jeffries put up 24 points and snatched 15 rebounds in an incredible showing, and Newton hauled in 10 boards of his own, none bigger than the one in the final seconds to secure Indiana’s 74-73 victory.
Newton’s last second rebound off a missed Jay Williams free throw was required in the closing moments after Coverdale fouled Williams on a triple that he nailed to give the Blue Devils the opportunity to level the game on a four-point play with only 4.2 seconds to go. The game was one of the many classics that have come out of the NCAA Tournament over the years, and if you haven’t seen it or want to relive this unforgettable upset and all its drama, I highly recommend.
In Indiana’s first Elite Eight since 1993, No. 10 seed Kent State awaited. The Golden Flashes were on a Cinderella run after dispatching of No. 7 seed Oklahoma State, No. 2 seed Alabama, and No. 3 seed Pittsburgh in their first three games and had a Final Four in their sights. Unfortunately for Kent State, so did Indiana.
Antonio Gates (yes, that Antonio Gates) had 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field for Kent State, but four Hoosiers scored in double figures as Indiana took care of the MAC champions, 81-69. The victory secured Indiana’s first Final Four since 1992 and its eight national semifinal in program history.
Indiana Last Final Four
Oklahoma, the No. 2 seed from the West Region, met Indiana in the Final Four in Atlanta, the last time the team made it to the tournament’s third weekend. The Sooners held a four-point advantage at halftime, but Indiana took control of the game in the second half. Indiana shot 8-of-13 from beyond the arc compared to Oklahoma’s 2-of-18 mark, and Newton scored 19 points off the bench, helping to make up for a relatively quiet night from Jeffries. Indiana won, 73-64, advancing to its first national championship game since 1987 with the opportunity to win the program’s first national title in 15 years.
The Hoosiers faced Maryland, the No. 1 seed in the East, in the ultimate game. The Terps led for most of the contest, though Indiana roared back to take a slim lead halfway through the second half. But it wouldn’t last. Maryland went on a 22-8 run to pull away from Indiana late in the game as Juan Dixon scored a game-high 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and Lonny Baxter had a double-double on 15 points and 14 rebounds. Indiana’s Kyle Hornsby put up 14 points and Dane Fife recorded 11 of his own, but it wasn’t enough for the Hoosiers. Maryland won its first national championship, 64-52, and the Indiana miracle run to its last Final Four was over.