LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Mike Davis sprinted to midcourt and disappeared from view. After waiting a lifetime for a chance, Davis got his, knowing full well there were forces lined up against him. When your team has just finished off one of the most improbable comebacks in NCAA Tournament history against the very team that symbolizes NCAA excellence, you have the right to celebrate however you want.
So Davis, the second-year Indiana coach, ran around the Rupp Arena court until there was no place else to run. His players had always believed in him. And when the Hoosiers fought back point by point against mighty Duke in the second half of their South Regional semifinal, Davis entrusted the game to them.
Duke led for the first 38 minutes. Indiana tied it in the 39th. And won it in the 40th.
Even when the game seemed over, it wasn't really. All IU had to do in the final seconds was not foul a 3-point shooter. The Hoosiers did, of course. This game demanded an ending as epic as the contest itself.
When Duke's Jason Williams, nearly everybody's player of the year, missed his only free throw attempt of the evening and Carlos Boozer of Juneau missed a follow, IU's Jeff Newton cradled the rebound as the buzzer sounded. The college careers of Williams and Boozer, who had long ago announced that their junior seasons would be their last, were over.
And Indiana, a 12-point underdog, had a 74-73 victory Thursday night that was as unforgettable as it was unexpected. On the same court where Villanova's impossible dream came true 17 springs ago, Indiana was one step from the Final Four.
"I told our players that playing basketball at Indiana is a great honor," Davis said. "If you do something special, the fans at Indiana will remember you for the rest of your life."
And that sprint?
"I feel like I ran a marathon," Davis said.
At a tournament meeting on Wednesday, Davis said "one of the guys from Duke asked, 'What time do we play on Saturday?' I looked around and maybe he didn't know I was sitting in the room. I told my guys this. I told them, 'They have a great basketball team, no doubt. But when someone disrespects us like this, we've got to come out and fight.' "
They fought. And, as they were fighting, Davis looked up in the stands and winked at Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and his college coach at Alabama, C.M. Newton. He told his players to sit down at one point and they all laughed. After one particularly egregious call, he glanced at a telephone on the scorers' table, thought about grabbing it and walked away.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had watched his team lose a 17-point, first-half lead. He had seen his veterans make one wild play after another down the stretch. Duke was forcing shots and throwing the ball all over the place. Still, the Blue Devils looked safe when they held off an IU run and stretched their lead to 70-64 with 2:50 left after Mike Dunleavy hit a very long three. They didn't score again until 4 seconds were left.
Indiana (23-11) won because it made all the effort plays. The Hoosiers crushed Duke on the boards, 47-32. They played through their star, Jared Jeffries (24 points, 15 rebounds, nine offensive). They got 24 points and 18 rebounds from their bench. A.J. Moye, who made the clinching free throws with 11 seconds left and Jeff Newton were on the floor at the finish, playing like starters.
Point guard Tom Coverdale, in foul trouble all game, gave IU its first tie with two free throws. He gave the Hoosiers their first lead on a baseline jumper. When Moye hit his two foul shots to give IU a 74-70 lead, the game should have been over.
Duke freshman Daniel Ewing rushed a 3, which had no chance. The ball flew right to Williams, who threw up a fadeaway 3 that was all net. Inexplicably, Dane Fife fouled him. Davis ran to the end of his bench and fell, his life flashing before his eyes. Williams missed the free throw. Boozer got the rebound and missed.
"(Boozer) put his meat hook of an arm on my shoulder and kind of threw me out of the way," said Jeffries, the kid who said no to Coach K to stay in his hometown of Bloomington and play for Davis. "When he was going up, I said, 'Well, he ain't going to hit a shot,' so I grabbed him and got a piece of the ball."
Teams rarely even try to run a set offense against Duke because the Blue Devils insist on overplaying every pass. The only way to beat the Blue Devils is to run it right at them. Indiana tried to run offense at the start. The Hoosiers had seven turnovers on their first 14 possessions and 11 on their first 21. They were averaging nearly a turnover a minute and trailed, 29-12.
Playing without Coverdale much of the time, IU seemed frozen by the reputation and talent of Duke. Whenever it got the ball past the initial line of defense, IU was able to score. But the Hoosiers simply were not getting enough shots to keep up with Duke's incredible offensive firepower.
The Blue Devils (31-4) started inside and then went outside. IU could not guard Boozer (19 points) in the post. That opened up the arc where Duke usually wins its games. By halftime, IU had 12 field goals and 16 turnovers. The Blue Devils had more than half of their points (23) off turnovers and led, 42-29.
Indiana began the second half scoring on every trip, but, if the Hoosiers were going to win, they were going to win with defense. So they did. Duke shot just 33.3 percent in the second half. IU sealed off the lane and ultimately forced Duke to panic.
"In an age where guys just leave and don't tell you anything, they had a plan," Krzyzewski said of Boozer and Williams. "They won a national championship for me. They won three ACC championships. I'll take it."
So the defending champs are out. And Indiana is still in.
During the week, Davis called Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson, who shared the game plan that beat Duke last month.
"It was Dave Dickerson's game plan," Davis said.
The plan was simple. Forget the offense. Get the ball inside. IU had 40 points in the lane.
"If we get it close down the end, their shots are not going to fall because our defense is one of the best in the country," a breathless Davis said he told his team.