SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - With Robert Vaden already suffering from a sprained ankle, Indiana got another scare when Marshall Strickland took to the bench to ice his left shoulder during the second half of Indiana's opening round NCAA game with San Diego State.
Strickland injured the shoulder while trying to stop San Diego State center Mohamed Camara from getting an easy look in the paint and the two players tangled arms. Strickland returned to the game and made the defensive play that setup Robert Vaden's game-winning shot, forcing a turnover from San Diego State guard Brandon Heath.
"I hurt my shoulder pretty good," Strickland said Friday. "I'm still questionable right now. I've got a couple more hours to rest so we'll see how it feels. It was just a bad collision basically and I sprained one of the ligaments in my AC joint. I'm trying to rest it."
After hurting his ankle in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, Vaden did not practice leading up to Indiana's game against the Aztecs and his playing time was questionable. However, the sophomore responded by starting the game, playing 36 minutes, scoring 18 points and hitting the 3-point shot that would put Indiana ahead for good with 3.3 seconds to go in the game.
"I'm feeling pretty much the same right now," said Vaden. "I feel pretty good so I should be alright for tomorrow."
Marco Killingsworth seems to be healthy after feeling back pain for most of the season. A day after the San Diego State game he felt no pain anywhere.
"I'm cool," said Killingsworth.
Davis' Next Last Stand
With each game possibly the last one for Indiana head coach Mike Davis, his players are feeling more and more anxious to send him out on the right note.
"We just want to make it special for him and for us," said Vaden. "We have seniors out there we want to win for, too. We plan on making this last season special for Coach Davis and our players as well."
Davis will be leaving Indiana after the season is over, but he hopes he can return to the NCAA Tournament as the head coach of another school – and hopefully have the same success in the Big Dance. Davis is now 7-3 in the NCAA tournament, 3-1 in the first round and 22-13 in the month of March.
"Hopefully this is not the last time that I'll do it," said Davis. "It'll just be the last time I do it at Indiana. Sometimes when I ride the bus to the game I sit around and think how lucky I was to be the coach at Indiana. This is a big time program. But I haven't had any thoughts of emotion of this is my last game and feeling sad about it. But you never know until that day comes. Right now I'm excited about being a part of this. I feel like we are in that moment where we can do something special."
The day Davis announced his resignation as head coach of Indiana, he said he hoped fans that had left the program could return and rally around the players. Since that day Davis feels the fans have started to come back, and the players can feel the support.
"I felt that the next home game against Penn State," said Davis. "I've felt it since then the fans are coming back and supporting the boys and the boys need that. They need that more than I need it. Coaches get paid a lot of money to do this so if you hurt my feelings or not it should never make me feel any different about anyone because from a maturity standpoint if you say something negative about me, that's just your opinion. I'm mature. I can handle that.
"With young players they are emotional and sometimes immature. If they don't feel like the fans are supporting them, it can really affect them. That's been my main concern throughout this whole ordeal. I want to make sure that they have great memories of their days in school."
Should He Stay or Should He Go
Robert Vaden has not been shy about saying he may transfer from the Indiana program after the season to follow Davis or explore other options, but he is not worried about that decision right now.
"That's something that we're going to address at the end of the season," said Vaden. "I really don't want to get into that too much because we have a big game here tomorrow night and that's all I'm focusing on right now."
Along with Vaden, D.J. White and A.J. Ratliff at one time discussed transferring, but have since backed away from such statements. The reasoning for possibly transferring for each was the connection they all formed with Davis. The connection between Davis and Vaden seems to be the strongest, possibly leading to the thoughts of wanting to follow him to his next coaching stop.
"Robert is like my son," said Davis. "He is one guy I hardly ever get mad at. If I get mad at him he has a tendency to look at my wife in the stands and she says ‘that's ok Robert. That's ok.' He is the toughest kid we have on this basketball team. Our relationship is just unbelievably close."
Feeling the Pressure
The pressure of coaching at Indiana finally got to Mike Davis this season and led to his resignation at the season's end, but he is not the only one to feel the pressure of being a Hoosier. Each Indiana player has felt what it really means to be a Hoosier at some point in their career.
"For me it was when I signed my national letter of intent," said Vaden. "When I signed here I had people telling me all sorts of things about Coach Davis. At Indiana it's important to win basketball games and right now we're winning games. Right now everybody's feeling good."
Marshall Strickland felt the meaning of being a Hoosier early in his career also, but in a more positive situation.
"For me it was freshman year after we won the Maui Invitational," said Strickland. "I was a freshman, I was naïve. I didn't think it was a real big deal. I thought we were supposed to win. We got back and everyone was going crazy. That's when I realized how big it was."
First Round Relief
With the win over San Diego State, the Indiana Hoosiers avoided the upset bug the two other Big Ten teams felt in the first round. With sixth seeded Michigan State, third-seeded Iowa and ninth-seeded Wisconsin all losing in the first round, the Big Ten finished at just 3-3 in the first round of the NCAA tournament after finishing the regular as the nation's strongest conference.
"There is so much pressure on not wanting to be knocked out on the first day," said Killingsworth. "You don't want your season to end that way. But once you get that thing up on your belt you're more relaxed and it feels like a regular season game now."
Killingsworth knows what it is like to make it to the Sweet 16 after leading Auburn to the third round his sophomore season with the Tigers, but for most of the other Hoosiers the first round win over the Aztecs was a new taste.
"I'm very excited because this is my first tournament," said Vaden. "I'm getting more and more excited for this next game because we'll be playing one of the best teams in the nation."
After having to go to the wire against San Diego State, the Hoosiers should be able to shake off the nerves for their second-round matchup with Gonzaga.
"I think with the first game a lot of teams come in and play nervous," said Strickland. "They don't play their style of basketball. Tomorrow I expect our team to be a lot better on defense and get up and down the court like we always do."
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