BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – What a difference 24 hours made for IU junior Rod Wilmont.
On Saturday, the 6-4, 200-pound junior slumped to the ground in tears after missing a potential game-winning shot in the closing seconds of IU's 52-51 Big Ten tourney semifinal loss to Ohio State. While the Hoosiers wouldn't have had a chance in the match-up were it not for Wilmont's team-high 16 points, that did little to ease Wilmont's pain.
"We came up short twice," Wilmont said Sunday. "That's how the ball falls sometimes. It hurts so bad because we played so hard to get back in the game."
Twenty-four hours later, though, Wilmont was all smiles after the NCAA Selection Committee announced IU was headed to Salt Lake City, Utah, for a first-round match-up with Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State (24-8). While Wilmont knew little about Steve Fisher's squad as of Sunday afternoon, he was excited that the NCAA committee had rewarded the Hoosiers with a No. 6 seed.
"A lot of people were saying we were an eight or a nine seed, but a six seed is huge," Wilmont said. "I guess they gave us a lot of respect for how we played the last few weeks."
Indiana has been playing much better basketball as of late, heading into the tournament as winners of five of its last six. One of the biggest reasons for the resurgence has been the play of Wilmont, who is averaging 13.3 points and 4.7 rebounds during his last three games and 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds during the six-game stretch.
Wilmont hopes to carry that over to Salt Lake City, as the Hoosiers are scheduled to take on San Diego State at approximately 9:50 p.m. EST Thursday.
It's an exciting time for Wilmont, who will be making his first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. While he was a member of IU's 2003 team that advanced to the second round before falling to Pitt, he was redshirt that season and had to watch from the sidelines.
In fact, only three players on the IU roster have ever played in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall Strickland played in both of IU's games during its 2003 run, while fellow seniors Marco Killingsworth and Lewis Monroe were starters on Auburn's 2003 squad that advanced to the Sweet 16.
Otherwise, it's a new experience for everyone on the Indiana roster.
"Ever since I was a kid, I saw Grant Hill and Duke and all those guys in the tournament and I always wanted to be in it," Wilmont said. "So I'm going to make it special."
Killingsworth is someone who can relate. He hasn't been in the NCAA tourney since Auburn's 2003 run, and he's let Wilmont and the other Hoosiers know how special of a time March can be.
"I know what the feeling is going to be like," Killingsworth said. "I've been telling the younger guys throughout the season, once you get there, from now on when you're in college, you're going to want to get back there."
Wilmont will want to be back in the tournament next season as a senior, but for the time being he's excited about his first opportunity to make memories in Salt Lake City.
"We want to make some noise," Wilmont said.
Sixth Seed Lifts Wilmont's Spirits
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