CHICAGO -- Finally on a day that started as the warmest day of Chicago's New Year and ended with the cold reality of one-and-done tournament basketball, we realize just how far Indiana basketball has come.
And that is not necessarily to assail those who are no longer with the program, the departed coach of yester year, if not yesterday, who picked up the pieces of a Basketball Mecca after The Legend dropped and shattered the glass slipper, the first-time coach who did his best until his best wasn't good enough.
No, this is only to point out that in the span of just under a year, things are very different under the banner of Indiana basketball.
Of course that might be obvious after a season which saw IU win 20 regular-season games for the first time since 2000, go undefeated at home and finish in sole possession of third-place in the Big Ten.
Or it might not be so obvious, after yet again Indiana ducked out of the Big Ten tournament before the Sunday finale – a game they've played in only once in 10 years – losing here Friday night to the University of Illinois, 58-54.
However you look at it, the proof today that much has changed in the Hoosier Nation can be steadfastly realized by understanding this -- Kelvin Sampson's welcome to the Big Ten tournament was Ted Hillary.
Hillary, for the uninformed, is the Big Ten referee who instigated the overruling of a fellow referee's call in the second half of Sampson's first-ever Big Ten tourney game, an act that helped turn a four-point Indiana lead turn into a 46-46 tie.
With 3:48 left in the game official Tom Clark called IU forward Xavier Keeling for a personal foul on Illinois' Shaun Pruitt. At the same time, Clark negated a 3-pointer that the Illini's Chester Frazier had knocked down, ruling the shot was launched after Keeling's infraction. Clark made his calls and both teams went to their benches for the final media timeout of the night.
During the timeout, Hillary pulled Clark and third official Paul Janssen into a huddle. The result of that caucus was a red-faced Sampson, a 3-pointer for Frazier and two free throws for Pruitt.
Pruitt made of one of two free throws and suddenly Indiana's 46-42 lead was gone.
Nine minutes of game action later, the Hoosiers would be gone also.
And Sampson's reaction to the call by the time he reached the press dais after the game?
"I thought that was a big play," Sampson said. "It looked like we'd get the ball up by three…I thought that would have been huge for us."
That was it. That was the extent of Sampson's comment on the incident.
The tired man offered no protest, said nothing that might draw a fine nor uttered anything that might be controversial.
And thus the torch was finally and officially passed from Mike Davis to Sampson.
Because after so many years of watching the man at the helm of the Hoosiers wear his heart on his sleeve, a man who once charged the court, who was disciplined for publicly criticizing the officiating, who often found himself saying the things originated in his chest rather than his head, the response from this Indiana coach was remarkably quiet.
No, on this night both Sampson's arms and his heart were hidden from sight.
Visible were only his tired eyes and an exhausted expression, souvenirs of his initiation into Big Ten postseason.
A tired man who had lost, but one that was not defeated.
Oh, he did say one more thing.
"Still, we had a chance to win," Sampson said. "Just couldn't get it done tonight."
There was of course more to Sampson's first conference tourney than Hillary's call.
There was the cavernous United Center, the windiest place Michael Jordan claimed he ever played.
There were the orange-clad crazies that dominated the UC, a slight of hand that proved that no matter what the scoreboard says, when the University of Illinois plays in Chicago the Illini are the home team.
"It's like a second home for us," Pruitt admitted after the game.
There was the physical, big-bodied, hard-nosed defense that Sampson saw this entire first year he spent at the helm of Indiana Hoosiers, only this time under one roof and all day long.
But Hillary will probably leave the lasting impression on Sampson, as he was the referee that instigated the changing of a crucial call that led to a four-point swing in a game that was, well, decided by four points.
Yes, the rest of the second half and the entire overtime period followed the call, a space of time to cushion its significance. That was until following the game when the referees issued a statement about the incident.
Of all the calls Hillary, Clark and Jansen made between the opening tip and the final buzzer, this was the only one they deemed necessary to comment on, in writing.
According to the officials' statement, which included a rules citing to back up their stance, all of the rigamarole was for not, as they contended that from outset, "The basket was going to be good."
The interplay of the three during their huddle suggested otherwise, but in this case words speak louder than actions.
That's not to say that refs cost Indiana the game.
No, the Hoosiers' loss could be chalked up to many things, not the least of which was IU's inability to get past the Illini's big bodies.
For 40 minutes, Illinois clogged the lane, defended ball screens and double teamed D.J. White, Indiana's sole inside presence.
And there was total number of points that the Hoosiers scored in the first 4:50 of the overtime period -- zero.
All of it contributed to Indiana's demise. But the fact remains that the overturned call was the only whistle of the night that you could put a face to, Ted Hillary's face to be specific.
It was a fact that Sampson was having none of.
"By about 3 o'clock in the morning, I'll have this thing figured out," Sampson said.
Sampson answered a few more questions.
And that was it.
With little fanfare and not much notice, the official changing of the guard was complete.
His first Big Ten tournament concluded, Sampson descended the podium and ducked through a black curtain and out of site.
A wearied coach on his way to his sleepless journey to 3:00 a.m.
OLIVER: Changing of the Guard Complete
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