Indiana guard Grace Berger worked too hard for too long to watch everything slip away Monday night at home.
So the senior guard did what she does best — took the ball, put her head down and drove to the basket for the tiebreaking layup with 28.2 seconds as the loud, large crowd roared.
A few minutes later, after Ali Patberg’s steal and Aleksa Gulbe’s free throws closed out the 56-55 second-round win over 11th-seeded Princeton and the Hoosiers second straight Sweet 16 trip, the players jogged into the student section and celebrated with their fans.
"I asked coach (Teri Moren) if we could go thank them and when I got there, I said ’Screw it, I’m just going up there with them," said Mackenzie Holmes, who led the Hoosiers players up the steps. "I just wanted them to know we appreciated them being here and thank them for showing up."
It was a fitting home finale for so many seniors who returned for one more NCAA Tournament run — and a party unlike any other.
After hearing the band play the school’s alma mater, Indiana's players lifted Moren into the air and later doused her with liquid, prompting her to bring a towel to the postgame news conference.
The party was well-deserved. Berger finished with 15 points and Nicole Cardano-Hillary had 12 as the Hoosiers (24-8) tied the school record for single-season victories in front of the third-lagest crowd in school history. And Berger and Patberg added win No. 90 to their school record.
"Of course we want her to go make the play for us and she did," Moren said. "You’ve been around sports and you know big time players make big time plays and that’s exactly what Grace did for us today."
The Hoosiers (24-8) have won five of their last six and swept the first two NCAA Tournament games they've ever hosted. Third-seeded Indiana now faces either second-seeded UConn or seventh-seeded UCF on Saturday in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The Hoosiers advanced on a night Princeton (25-5) was trying to post a tourney record ninth victory by a double-digit seed. Instead, the Tigers had their 18-game winning streak snapped while shooting 32.8% from the field and three of its top players got into early foul trouble.
Julia Cunningham and Grace Stone each scored 13 to lead Princeton. Ivy League player of the year Abby Meyers had 11 points, going just 4 of 15 from the field and missing her first six 3-point attempts before making the last one as the buzzer sounded.
"I think we showed the national stage that we can compete with anyone," coach Carla Berube said. "We have very talented players who work really hard, play together, play for each other and have a lot of fun. I think it’s a great recipe to show everyone out there Princeton basketball and the Ivy League is really great."
The Ivy League tourney champs made it tough on Indiana.
Princeton charged back from a 39-29 halftime deficit to take 50-49 lead when Ellie Mitchell capped an 8-0 run with 5:19 to go.
Cardona-Hillary's layup gave Indiana a 51-50 lead, but Meyers answered with two free throws to make it 52-51 with 1:12 left.
Berger tied the score by making one free throw with 58.1 seconds left then broke the tie with her layup on a play called during a timeout before Gulbe closed it out.
Princeton: The Tigers already have one of the nation's stingiest defenses and a balanced, disciplined offense. It helped them beat Southeastern Conference tourney champ Kentucky on Saturday and gave the Big Ten tourney runner-up everything it could handle Monday. And the future looks bright with Meyers the only key player who is a senior.
Indiana: The Hoosiers survived, barely, and they needed all the energy the crowd could muster. But after making their first Elite Eight run last year, Indiana wasn't going to let anyone deter it from making another Sweet 16 run.
Princeton: Mitchell had 15 rebounds and the Tigers had a 10-1 rebounding edge on the offensive end. ... Kaitlyn Chen scored 10 points.
Indiana: Holmes had 10 points and eight rebounds. ... Berger also had seven rebounds. ... Patberg finished with six points, three assists and the one steal in her home finale.
SHE SAID IT
"I know it’s her seventh year and it’s my fifth year going into my sixth," Meyers said of her matchup with Patberg. "You can just tell she’s definitely a leader on that team. I think it was a competitive matchup and I had a lot of fun. At the end of the day, she made some plays down the stretch."
Indiana faces second-seeded UConn on Saturday in Bridgeport, Connecticut.