As the reality of a 64-54 loss to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament began to sink in Thursday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana basketball team began thinking about what could be next this season.
The National Invitation Tournament.
Indiana (17-15) won't find out until Sunday night if the Hoosiers are still playing this season but IU's players indicated they hoped they would get that opportunity.
"It's disappointing that it ended this way because I feel like we have a lot more basketball left in us,'' said IU guard Austin Etherington. "We have the NIT and I think that will give us another opportunity to work toward something and give the younger guys for sure an opportunity to play more basketball.
"We're not going to back to the NCAA Tournament but I think we still can finish our season strong.''
IU coach Tom Crean was asked in his postgame interview following the loss to Illinois how he would define Indiana's season. He said he hopes it's still too early to define it completely.
"I wouldn't (define it) because I hope it's going to continue to keep going,'' Crean said. "So 15, 20 minutes after the game has ended, I really don't have a definition. I hope we can get to continue to play. It would be an honor to keep playing. And I'd like to see us continuing to get better.''
IU freshman forward Noah Vonleh said the loss to Illinois and quick exit in the Big Ten Tournament was a disappointment but he and his teammates are trying to remain positive.
"It is disappointing but the fact that we can keep playing in the NIT gives us the opportunity to show that we're a competitive team still and that we still have heart,'' Vonleh said. "We need to stay focused going in with great energy, keep getting better and just have everybody stay healthy.''
The thought of playing in the NIT is a foreign concept to Indiana basketball fans. The last time the Hoosiers played in the NIT was 2005 after the team coached by Mike Davis finished the regular season 15-13. IU then played host to Vanderbilt in the first round of the NIT at Assembly Hall and dropped a 67-60 decision.
But to at least one current IU player, the NIT is not that unfamiliar. Fifth-year senior transfer Evan Gordon played in the NIT last season with Arizona State. The Sun Devils were a No. 3 seed and beat Detroit 83-68 in the first round of the NIT. ASU then lost at Baylor, 89-86 in the second round. Gordon scored six points against Detroit and 14 against Baylor, coming off the bench in both games.
Gordon said the NIT is whatever a team makes it out to be.
"I think teams can go one way or another,'' Gordon said. "For a team like this and a team like we had at Arizona State last year, we made our mind up that we were going to go and try to win it all. We lost to Baylor at Baylor. You just have to make it be a big deal. We just have to take it in stride each day so that we can make a big run in that tournament.''
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch