BLOOMINGTON — Indiana’s losing is over.
Collin Hartman is getting married.
Did one lead to the other?
Don’t answer that.
They won a 63-62 thriller over Northwestern Saturday night, making crunch-time plays as they hadn’t so often this season. They ended the game on an 8-0 run in the final 1:33.
That ended a five-game losing streak and provided a spark amid growing fan apathy that resulted in the least-attended Assembly Hall Senior Night in memory.
IU (16-13 overall, 6-10 in the Big Ten) won and the post-game celebration included a Senior Night speech from Hartman, the team’s only senior, who might not actually be in his final season.
And what was a Senior Night first, Hartman proposed to his long-time girlfriend, senior cheerleader Hayley Daniel.
For the record, she said yes.
“That was crazy,” center Thomas Bryant said. “I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
IU coach Tom Crean did.
“I kept it quiet. I’m happy for the players. I’m happy for Collin. Senior Night is always special, and knowing what I knew would transpire, you want that to be good. It was fantastic. It’s bitter sweet with Collin. It’s the epitome of what you want of Indiana basketball.”
Hartman hasn’t played all season because of a knee injury. He has one more year of eligibility if he wants it. He is undecided on what he wants to do. Crean said he’s welcome to return, if that’s what he wants.
The fact IU is over-signed by two players for next season is drama that can wait until later.
“He can be extremely successful in the business world,” Crean said, “or he can come back to Indian and play another year. He’s got options.”
IU won specifically because, trailing 62-60, guard James Blackmon rebounded Bryant McIntosh’s missed layup with nine seconds left, drove the court. He got into the lane, Northwestern’s defense collapsed on him, and he passed to Bryant, who dunked and was fouled with 2.6 seconds left. He made the game-winning free throw.
It was Blackmon’s only assist of the night. He led the Hoosiers with 13 points.
“It was in my mind to be aggressive and make a good play,” he said. “I heard the bench call timeout, but I was already in my move, so I just went with it and tried to be confident.”
Added Bryant: “I thought James would take the shot. I was getting ready to get in rebound position. I knew I could get to the backside. I kept wedging them out. He dumped it off to me.”
The victory came with a few Cream ‘n Crimson breaks. Freshman guard Devonte Green ended the first half by banking in a 50-foot shot. Bryant’s game-winning free throw hit the rim and bounded three-feet in the air before dropping through the net. Northwestern missed a dunk and a couple of late layups.
Still, you make your own breaks, and on this night, the Hoosiers, who have lost nine times by seven or fewer points, battled their way to make just enough.
“Literally the bounce went on our way,” Crean said.
And then …
“You’ve got to have the reward for going through the hard stretch we’ve gone through, and the reward is resilience.
“I’m not sure I could get it across to you how hard it is to keep coming back day after day when you’re working so hard and you’re right there and it doesn’t go your way. That’s what they’ve had to deal with.”
Northwestern (20-9, 9-7) lost its second straight game, and fifth in the last seven games. It remains positioned for its first-ever NCAA tourney bid.
“Northwestern is a NCAA tourney team,” Crean said. “It was a great battle. To find a way down seven with like a minute and a half left, to keep coming, I’m very proud of them.”
McIntosh, a state-of-Indiana native, had a game-high 22 points. But he missed a free throw and a layup that might have made the difference.
“It’s disappointing we couldn’t finish the game,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I feel for our guys. They put their hearts on the floor. They made a lot of big plays in a tough environment. It’s just a tough loss.”
Northwestern thrived in the game’s opening 14 minutes — thanks in part to another IU turnover frenzy — to build a 12-point lead, then spent the final six minutes forgetting it was OK to get the ball inside. The result was a series of missed perimeter jumpers while IU went on the attack to close the half on a 22-0 run, capped by Green’s half-court shot that just might be the longest in Assembly Hall history.
That gave IU a 36-26 halftime lead.
Northwestern needed six minutes to retake the lead. IU scored just six points in the first 10:30 of the second half. The Wildcats surged ahead 49-42. It twice led by eight. When McIntosh banked in a three-pointer with 1:33 left, it led by seven and was positioned for a season sweep of the Hoosiers.
It wasn’t enough.
On this night, IU found a way.
Next up – at rival Purdue on Tuesday.
“This can get our confidence going,” Blackmon said. “So many of the games we lost, we were right there. Just look at the film and the things that can get us better, and carry it out through the next game.”