BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana Hoosiers, looking glum and weary, returned from their surprising Final Four run on Tuesday to hear a simple message from their fans: Thanks.
Once inside Assembly Hall, the team returned the message.
"We're all pretty tired, but we appreciate everything you guys do for us," said Jarrad Odle, one of two IU seniors. "We want to say thanks for supporting us. We really appreciate it."
Nearly 200 fans greeted the baggy-eyed Hoosiers as they arrived from Atlanta after Monday night's 64-52 loss to Maryland. Most held signs thanking the team for the surprising string of upsets that ended at the NCAA championship game.
"I think we brought back the IU tradition the way it's supposed to be," said Dane Fife, the other senior. "This put a smile on our faces like we put the smile back on yours."
Did they ever. The Hoosiers had a postseason run few would have expected when they started the season 7-5 and critics were howling for coach Mike Davis' dismissal. Slowly, Davis made the players believe that his system would work and the results started to show.
Indiana shared the Big Ten title. Jared Jeffries was named Big Ten Player of the Year. Then the fifth-seeded Hoosiers beat Duke and Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament to earn their first Final Four appearance since 1992, even with a gimpy Tom Coverdale at point guard.
The magic ran out Monday against Maryland, as the Terrapins contained Jeffries and went on a late run to crush any thoughts of Indiana's first national championship since 1987.
"After a couple of days, I'm sure we'll be proud of what we've done," said Coverdale, who sprained his left ankle in the South Regional championship. "Nobody thought we'd go this far. Everybody was disappointed. We all thought that we had a chance."
For Davis, the success brought validation as a successful coach. Davis said Tuesday he was learning to live with the idea he would never escape the shadow of ousted icon Bob Knight.
"I was pretty frustrated at the beginning with the way people treated me," Davis said. "What did I do? But I've learned you can't take things personally."
Davis thought the Hoosiers had one more run left after they took a 44-42 lead with 9:53 left against Maryland, but it ran out of energy. He said he had no intention of watching the game on tape.
"It's too hard to watch it," he said. "We were right there, just a couple of plays from turning the corner."
Indiana lost for the first time in six national championship game appearances.
"We're all disappointed, but it's a blessing to be playing for the national championship," Davis said. "It won't be the last time. We'll have the opportunity to go again."
Their next trip could be without Jeffries, a 6-foot-10 forward. He said he would take about a week to decide whether to stay for his junior season or enter the NBA draft.
"I'm disappointed. Everybody was down," he said. "I'm little bit worn out, but I wouldn't trade this for anything. I just need some time."
With or without Jeffries, Davis said another championship banner should soon be hanging from the Assembly Hall rafters.
"I know I can win a national championship," he said. "I'm going to bring in the best players. It should be like this every year."
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