INDIANAPOLIS — By the time it ended, the result of Nebraska's first-round matchup against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament didn't matter much.
The Huskers were without coach Fred Hoiberg for the final few minutes of action as Hoiberg, who had been ill, left the court and went to Nebraska's locker room. Assistant Doc Sadler took over for approximately the final four minutes of the game.
At 10:39 p.m. (11:39 in Indianapolis) Nebraska released a statement confirming that Hoiberg was transported to Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was diagnosed with influenza A. The statement also said Hoiberg had returned to the team hotel after being discharged from the hospital.
The statement also read that Hoiberg had been checked out prior to Nebraska's game against the Hoosiers and became more ill as the game progressed.
It was about midway through the second half when the Big Ten Network broadcast began talking about Hoiberg's illness. Sideline reporter Mike Hall spoke with Hoiberg at the end of halftime.
When asked how he was feeling, Hoiberg told Hall, "Well, still not great, but I'm here and I'm good enough to keep going through the game."
A source later told the Journal Star that the Huskers were quarantined in their locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Huskers began slowly leaving their locker room just before midnight eastern time. The team returned to its hotel, where it was joined later by Hoiberg.
After the final buzzer sounded, the teams did not shake hands, instead congratulating each other from their respective benches.
Big Ten officials then announced that Nebraska would not be attending the postgame press conference.
It was a surreal scene in a surreal season for the Huskers.
As far as the actual game, Indiana closed the first half with a 16-1 run to erase an improbable Nebraska lead, and the Hoosiers went on to end the Huskers’ season with an 89-64 win in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Nebraska (7-25) led 33-26 and wasn’t backing down from a Hoosiers squad that absolutely could not afford a loss in its efforts to lock up a NCAA Tournament bid.
As news spread that first the Big Ten would stop allowing fans into its games after Wednesday night, and then early in the second half that the NBA had suspended its season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the game became secondary.
It became more so when the Big Ten broadcast revealed Hoiberg was coaching while ill, and cameras caught him at one point sitting on the bench with his head down trying to collect himself. Hoiberg left the bench late in the game.
But the teams played on, and Nebraska’s lack of horses doomed it one final time.
The Huskers ended their season on a 17-game losing streak, and the last one looked like most of the others, even against an opponent it had played as close as any in two previous games this season.
But after Nebraska took a 33-27 lead with 4:05 left in the first half, the well ran dry.
Quarterback Noah Vedral and offensive lineman Brant Banks will both travel with NU to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament.
Indiana’s spurt to end the opening 20 minutes gave the Hoosiers a 43-34 lead.
The run grew to 31-5 in the early part of the second half as the Huskers’ tired legs began to betray them.
One final push, a 13-2 run that feature eight points from Kevin Cross, got the Huskers within 70-61 with 7:41 still to play. But Indiana (20-12) responded with a 10-3 run of its own to take the lead back to 16, and got it home from there.
Nebraska took Indiana to overtime in the first meeting between the teams this season, and played the Hoosiers within eight points when the teams played in Lincoln.
And in the opening minutes it looked like another tight game might be in the offing. Indiana hit its first five shots while the Huskers made five of their first eight.
Nebraska was controlling the pace, even when the offense sputtered after the quick start, and when Thorir Thorbjarnarson hit a pair of free throws at the 4:05 mark to give Nebraska a six-point lead, a few eyebrows began to rise.
Kevin Cross led Nebraska with a career-high 23 points while Haanif Cheatham score 17 and Jervay Green had 15.
The two football players Nebraska brought to Indianapolis, quarterback Noah Vedral and offensive lineman Brant Banks, entered the game with a little more than two minutes left.
Vedral found Banks on a pick and roll that led to the 6-foot-7, 300-pounder shooting a couple of free throws that he couldn’t convert. Vedral finished 0-for-2 from the field, while Banks was 0-for 1.
But the story ended there. Two hours later, so did Nebraska’s season.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.
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