Just four minutes into Tuesday night's Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Pittsburgh, Hanner Mosquera-Perea picked up his second foul. Freshman Emmitt Holt, who had played only 17 total minutes before Tuesday, had to play early, important minutes in a big game.
Sink or swim time.
After everything he's been through, Holt had every excuse to run away and hide. He had every reason to freeze up in front of the Assembly Hall crowd, be paralyzed by fear.
But he didn't do any of those things. Instead, Holt swam, and he swam fast.
Holt had a team-high 15 points in IU's 81-69 win over Pittsburgh. He was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, pulled down five rebounds and blocked two shots in 19 minutes. Holt was everything the Hoosiers had been missing.
To fully understand what Tuesday night's performance meant, though, you must first realize where he's been and what he's overcome.
Holt's three-plus months at Indiana have been far from routine or ordinary. He was enrolled at a prep school in Vermont for this year, prepared to play one more high school season to attract more scholarship offers. The Hoosiers found him late, through assistant coach Chuck Martin's AAU contacts, and Holt signed with Indiana less than a week before fall classes began in August.
Indiana's other freshmen had been on campus all summer. By the time Holt arrived, they were pretty well adapted. Holt had a lot of catching up to do.
"He was in the EYBL [when we were in Canada]," said Indiana coach Tom Crean. "He should be at the academy right now."
Then, just days before the Hoosiers were scheduled to play their first exhibition game, tragedy struck.
Just before 1 a.m. on Nov. 1, Holt drove teammate Devin Davis to the Memorial Stadium parking lot and dropped him off. For reasons that remain unclear, Davis reentered the roadway, and was struck with the car Holt was driving. Davis suffered a traumatic brain injury, remained in serious condition for several days, and is still out of basketball.
Holt, 18, had a BAC of 0.02 -- not nearly enough to affect his driving -- but was cited for underage consumption and operating a motor vehicle. Holt was suspended four games for his involvement in the incident.
The accident was not Holt's fault, but that didn't stop him from blaming himself. Crean and his staff didn't let Holt out of their sight for at least the first 48 hours after the incident. They had to take care of him, help him deal with incredible guilt and grief he was feeling.
"It was tough for everybody," Crean said, pausing occasionally to fight off tears. "We tried to make sure he understood right away that he was forgiven because that could have happened to anybody. The Davis family was fantastic. I'm not going to put words in anybody's mouth or put thoughts in somebody's head, but I was pretty inspired by the level of care they had for him."
It would have been easy for Holt to walk away from it all and begin anew somewhere else. He was already behind, and he was dealing with things nobody should have have to deal with.
But Holt stayed, he dealt with his feelings with the help of his coaches and teammates, and he's persevered.
"They forgave me," Holt said of the Davis family. "That was the biggest thing because I hurt their child. They supported me along the way. They knew I was struggling, they knew I felt bad for what I did. It changed my life forever."
"When something is taken away, they're going to respond to that. They're going to go way or the other," Crean said. "They are either going to respond in a positive, hungry way about it, or they're going to get down and pout. He's worked extremely hard."
Holt's performance on Tuesday night was a feel-good story for a kid that probably hasn't had too many feel-good moments over the last month. That's why it's so important, why it means so much. By all accounts, Holt is a great kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It really could have happened to anyone.
But Holt's refusal to quit, his determination to get back and be better is a positive outcome from a negative event. Instead of dwelling on his past, Holt chose to give Indiana fans a glimpse of his future, of the player he may eventually become.
Holt persevered, and it finally paid off for him on Tuesday night.VIDEO: An emotional Tom Crean reacts to win
What We Learned: IU 81, Pitt 69