Will Sheehey barely played in his first game at Assembly Hall, an afterthought in a rare blowout victory for a bad team.
He bids the building adieu this evening as a beloved leader, one now enjoying a third straight winning season.
Also saying goodbye on Senior Night are classmates Jeff Howard and Taylor Wayer and fifth-year transfer Evan Gordon.
But there’s little doubt who will own the spotlight during Indiana’s traditional postgame addresses.
“You’ve got to remember this about Will: He helped turn this program,” Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. “He walked into the doldrums of this place. Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo along with Jordan Hulls changed the culture of this program, no doubt about it. He is the only one left, and that culture is still moving in a great place because of what he does.”
A forward from Stuart, Fla., Sheehey was a part of the first Indiana team since 1993 to finish alone in first place in the Big Ten. He hit a game-winning shot in the NCAA tournament, played in back-to-back Sweet 16s and was voted by coaches as the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year.
“The best thing about Will,” Crean said, “is that he’s never been one of those players who has played for any recognition other than being a winner.”
Indiana (17-12, 7-9 Big Ten) won’t have an easy time sending Sheehey out on top in his home finale.
Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) has won eight of its last 10 games.
“Any time you defend really well, you feel like you can beat anybody anywhere,” Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles said.
Nebraska won the first meeting 60-55 on Jan. 30, overcoming a 16-point deficit by hounding the Hoosiers into 19 turnovers.
“The way Indiana’s personnel is, it felt like a good matchup,” Miles said. “I thought we had enough poise to know we could come back if we kept getting defensive stops. We did. We took control of the game little by little. Our defensive tone was good. It was a good matchup for us defensively.”
Behind 49 points from Sheehey, Indiana has knocked off Iowa and Ohio State, two of the league’s best, in back-to-back games. These lightning-in-a-bottle Hoosiers are different than the version that lost at Nebraska five weeks ago, and they are 14-3 at home.
“I don’t think there’s any question IU is the hottest team in the conference,” Miles said. “They’re surging late. They’re playing terrific basketball. We’ll have to find some way to disrupt them, and that’s not easy with that amount of talent coach Crean has assembled.”
Indiana’s most elite talent could be in street clothes. Center Noah Vonleh missed Saturday’s game and is day-to-day with left foot inflammation. If Vonleh can’t go, Nebraska’s stingy defense has a lot less to worry about.
But it won’t detract from the Hoosiers’ emotional edge.
“I’m very happy for (Sheehey),” Crean said. “Same with Taylor Wayer and Jeff Howard, and even Evan being here one year with us. We’ll be locked in.”