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Column: Enjoy this team

It wasn’t quite Kentucky, but it was pretty damn close.

That’s what they said at Kilroy’s Bar & Grill, where young men and women danced on tables, clad in wild combinations of green and red that gave you the impression a Christmas party had been horribly scheduled.

“WILL MOTHER***KING SHEEHEY!” a man shouted into his phone as he crossed Dunn Street. Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” blared out of the garage-door windows of the popular downtown Bloomington bar. So many voices sang along, it was impossible to discern who was singing from who wasn’t without looking directly at their mouths.

It was a busy night at Kilroy’s, busier than usual for the last Saturday of Spring Break. Most students, a manager said, usually don’t turn out when they first get back from vacation. But tonight was different.

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Enjoy this. If you are an Indiana fan, enjoy this team, because you will never get another one quite like it.

This team looked on the ropes for more than 30 minutes. It wilted possession after possession against VCU’s relentless pressure, time and again making rushed, poor decisions.

So many of the qualities that had made Indiana Indiana this season were utterly absent. The Hoosiers weren’t getting to the free-throw line. They were turning the ball over like each giveaway came with a $5 prize. Offensive efficiency was little more than a dream.

And then VCU went cold.

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Folks across the street at Nick’s said the same thing: It wasn’t quite Kentucky, but it wasn’t far off.

Managers had to set up a bouncer and a rope line at the upstairs entrance to the Hoosier Room, leading up from the kitchen. There were too many people inside.

It was, perhaps, less of a college crowd at Nick’s, and the action had begun to thin 10 minutes after the game. “How about them Hoosiers!” multiple people shouted as they walked past one another, trading high-fives.

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This team is playing from a different place.

This team never dies, because it has died a hundred times. It’s sat in so many miserable, hope-deprived locker rooms, stared ahead into nothing in particular, looking for answers it wasn’t ever going to find.

Now it’s found them. Now it sees more than anyone could have possibly imagined, because it’s seen more than anyone could have possibly imagined.

There is incredible balance in a team that can see any of its three leading scorers go cold for a night or three and still manage to win, that can lose a senior point guard — a veteran leader capable of marshaling his team through tough moments — and still peck at relentless defensive pressure until it finds its way through.

Rob Brandenberg made a 3-pointer off a kick-out pass from VCU point guard Darius Theus at 13:49 in the second half, pushing his team’s lead to seven. The Rams would make just three more baskets the rest of the night.

Yet Indiana did not find its way immediately. The Hoosiers turned the ball over seven times between Brandenburg’s made 3-pointer and the end of the game. When Theus answered a Cody Zeller basket with one of his own at the 2:24 mark, the Rams looked ready to put the game away.

That pull-up jumper in the lane, giving the Rams’ a five-point lead, would account for their last two points of the game.

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A thunderstorm gathered to the southeast, lightning dancing behind the clouds and thunder rolling low, like cannons firing on a distant battlefield. One could hardly hear it though, over the chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” being belted out from every soul inside Kilroy’s.

There was no need to read lips now — everyone was singing.

Cars drove through, laying on their horns. People wandered between the triangle of bars, not drunk, but simply dazed, looking for another way to release the celebratory energy bursting from them.

Cell phones were everywhere, incredulous people talking to incredulous people, over an incredulous ending to an incredible game.

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Seventeen seconds after Theus’ jumper, Zeller drove hard to the basket from the left wing, barreling into a defender. It was, in baseball parlance, a bang-bang play, as one journalist pointed out on Twitter. Zeller was called for an offensive foul.

But Troy Daniels, VCU’s best 3-point shooter, missed what would have been a crushing 3-pointer at the other end, and Theus fouled Zeller 15 seconds later. The sensational rookie forward hit both free throws.

Will Sheehey fouled Bradford Burgess, VCU’s best player, as he drove to the basket. For the season, Burgess was an 80 percent free-throw shooter.

He missed both.

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Ever so aptly, Diamond gave way to Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’” blaring across Kirkwood Avenue as lightning continued to flash behind the clouds gathered to the east, beyond campus.

The rain would eventually come. It didn’t really seem to matter.

As a car drove down Dunn Street, a girl leaned her head out the window and shouted “Hoo- Hoo- Hoo-, Hoosiers!” Indiana basketball had given Indiana University — what of it was in Bloomington anyway — one more incredible moment.

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Watford pulled in the rebound, handing the ball off to Victor Oladipo. The sophomore guard had turned the ball over five times this night, but with his team desperately needing points, he drove hard to the basket.

The layup rolled in, as VCU forward Juvonte Reddic drew his fifth and final foul. Oladipo brought the game level for the first time in more than 14 minutes.

Daniels missed his last shot of the game, a 3-pointer. The 6-foot-4 junior had made 38.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc this season. He hit just 2-of-8 tries from range Saturday night.

Oladipo gathered in the rebound, lowered his body and sprinted toward the basket at the other end of the court. His layup was blocked into the ground, and into the hands of fellow sophomore Will Sheehey. As much as any two players on roster, those two — unheralded to begin their careers but crucial contributors to this season’s success — have cued IU’s turnaround.

The ESPN play-by-play, posted right after the game, gave Oladipo an assist on Sheehey’s jumper, which faded just right, hitting the rim before sinking through the net and giving Indiana a two-point lead.

It made no mention of block.

Brandenburg’s missed 3-pointer sent Indiana’s bench onto the court, and its program to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002.

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Enjoy this team. You will never get another team quite like this team. Honestly, you won’t.

Kentucky, talented, deep and probably angry, waits for the Hoosiers in Atlanta. A season that’s gone from magical to impressive to magical and back might be over by this time next Friday night.

That means so little now, because this team has given its fans so much. It has beaten everyone of its traditional rivals, every one of the Big Ten’s regular-season champions, every in-state opponent it faced, and now it is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in a decade.

Indiana might have more talented teams than this one under Tom Crean. It might have more successful teams than this one. It will probably never have one quite so gutsy, quite so feisty, or quite so simply lovable as this one, at least for its fans.

Enjoy this team. It’s given you one more week.

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