Bloomington- Indiana's first game of the 2009 WNIT was a good one.
"What a game, what a fantastic game," said IU coach Felisha Legette-Jack after Whitney Thomas' last-second tip-in gave the Hoosiers a 59-57 win over Dayton in the second-round Sunday at Assembly Hall.
Moments earlier, Dayton had some dramatics of its own when Kendel Ross hit a 3 from the left wing with 0.6 seconds left to tie the game at 57. That set the stage for the improbable - and controversial – game-winner.
Thomas inbounded the ball to fellow senior Kim Roberson, who hoisted a desperation shot from half court. But instead of sending the game into overtime, a whistle blew with 0.2 seconds still showing on the clock. The officials determined it was an inadvertent whistle, as one official was unclear how much time was necessary to catch and shoot.
Indiana took the ball out of bounds at the mid-court line, and Roberson lobbed the ball toward the basket. Thomas came off of a back screen, jumped, and tipped the ball off the backboard and in as the horn sounded to give Indiana the victory and its first 20-win season since 2000-01.
"I got a back screen when that guard switched off, and my height against hers matched up perfectly, I didn't see a player in front of me at all - I just saw the ball and the basket," said Thomas about the final play.
It was the senior-to-senior connection that intrigued Coach Jack.
"How ironic that the last play of the game involved the two kids that stayed through three coaches, how ironic, Whitney and Kim," Legette-Jack said.
Despite the exciting finish, the game started auspiciously for both ball clubs. Both teams struggled from the floor as Indiana took a 24-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Hoosiers may have been trying to shake off a little rust, having not played since losing to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament more than two weeks ago.
In the second half, both teams came out shooting well, and Indiana used a quick 7-0 run to move the lead to 35-28 with 14:26 to play. The Hoosiers pushed the lead to eight, but Dayton fought back to cut the deficit to three with a trey from freshman Patrice Lalor.
Indiana sophomore Jori Davis hit consecutive 3's, and Dayton freshman De'Sarae Chambers answered with two straight 3's of her own. Kristen Daugherty, who led the Flyers in scoring with 14, scored four consecutive points before Indiana senior Amber Jackson hit a turnaround layup in the lane, putting Indiana up 3, to set up the final sequence.
Junior guard Jamie Braun led Indiana in scoring with 16 points. Jackson and Davis also reached double figures, netting 14 and 11, respectively. Whitney Thomas pulled down 14 rebounds, including 10 in the first half, and Roberson collected three thefts to add to her career steals record.
While the Hoosiers were disappointed to miss the NCAA Tournament, there is certainly still a lot to play for.
"Myself and three others are seniors, and this is our last go around of the season, so we just want to play as long as we can, pursue a championship, and try and hang a banner. Obviously we are disappointed that we didn't make the NCAA Tournament, but we are not going to hang our heads - there are still a lot of games left to play," said senior forward Amber Jackson.
The final play of the game was a memorable moment, but it was no accident.
"That is the way we designed it. I was worried for a second that it might be too far up, but we didn't have another choice except to take a great passer and a great catcher to finish that off. I have to thank all of the volleyball coaches at Bloomington North for helping Whitney develop her jumping ability - because when you look at that play, it looks like slow motion and Whitney is shoulders above everyone else. And she is left handed on the right hand side," said Legette-Jack.
Indiana men's coach Tom Crean was at Assembly Hall, enjoying the game with his family.
"Coach Crean has been here every game. I just know that he and I are both on the same page. We believe in each other. I never thought I'd meet someone as intense as I am. He's surpassed me times ten, and I love it. He's helped us tremendously. I think that's the way you grow programs. We had that kind of relationship at Michigan State, and I love that he's here now. I think that together, we're really going to bring basketball back, and it's going to be bigger and better than ever because it's not just one team rising, it's going to be two," said Legette-Jack.
Indiana will move on to the third round of the 2009 WNIT, and will play at Bowling Green on Thursday after the Falcons defeated Legette-Jack's alma mater Syracuse, 72-69. Game time is set for 7 PM Eastern.
Thomas' Tip-In Sends Hoosiers to Round Three
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