- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Mike Davis knew his players were watching his reactions. He had been getting on the officials throughout the game, starting to get too tense, maybe even too nervous. He had to relax. He had to show his players that he was doing fine and that they were OK and could actually win this game.
So, with his team, his Indiana Hoosiers, down three points, with just under five minutes left to No. 1-seeded and defending national champion Duke, he started to talk to one of the NCAA Tournament selection committee members courtside.
He started to laugh, smile and look about as at ease as any head coach could in such an intense situation. A scene, mind you, that had to have everyone's heart inside Rupp Arena palpitating a bit Thurday night.
"I know they look at me all the time," Davis said of his players. "They always glance, so I wanted them to see me talking, smiling, laughing. I wanted them to feel that if they miss a shot or throw the ball away it wouldn't be a problem."
Davis kneeled down along the sideline, looked over at Les Robinson, The Citadel athletic director and committee member, and said, "We're going to win this game. I'm telling you we're going to win this game."
Nearly three minutes later, the Hoosiers tied Duke at 70-70.
"We're going to shock the world," Davis told Robinson, even as Duke's Jason Williams had possession with just over a minute remaining.
They did. In a remarkable ending, Indiana beat Duke 74-73, coincidentally the same score of the Hoosiers last national title in 1987 when they beat Syracuse on Keith Smart's last-second jumper.
It's been nearly that long -- save a Final Four trip in 1992 and an Elite Eight in '93 -- since there was this kind of buzz about Indiana basketball this late into the NCAA Tournament. Keep in mind, the Hoosiers are a No. 5 seed. Now, No. 5 seeds have reached the Final Four -- Florida even played for the title in 1999.
But few teams have ever been through what this group of Hoosiers have over the past two seasons -- going from the firing of a legend and Hall of Fame coach to an Elite Eight under one of the most scrutinized coaches in the game.
So, we now have the most unpredictable South Regional final in what was supposed to be the most obvious Duke cakewalk to Atlanta. Mike Davis will coach against Stan Heath. Indiana vs. Kent State. Former Indiana assistant against former Michigan State assistant, two years removed from their time together chit-chatting about their legendary national championship bosses -- Bob Knight and Tom Izzo during the Big Ten regular season.
"It's a great feeling," Davis said. "All I'm trying to do is represent the assistant coaches across the country. There are great guys who can get the job done if the players play hard for them. Our guys do. I get on them hard, but they don't get down. They move on past it. I'm trying to represent the coaches and tell everyone that you don't need a big name guy to get the job done."
Heath couldn't agree more as the two now prepare for the next biggest game of their lives, both in a situation that no one could have ever predicted.
"I agree with Mike, totally," Heath said after Kent State advanced for the first time to the Elite Eight, the first Mid-American Conference school to get into the Elite Eight. "It's hard for us to get opportunities, especially good opportunities. And when you get them, you have to take advantage of them and fortunately both of us had success and had guys who worked hard and want to win. That's a blessing."
Heath said he didn't fill out a bracket, but if he did, he would have had Kent State going far in the tournament. But Heath said he wouldn't have had Kent State and Indiana in the Elite Eight.
"Probably not," Heath said. "But I thought we were the backup to Tyson-Holyfield. There was an electricity in this building and it carried through to our game."
Heath's boxing analogy isn't too far off. Davis went that way in trying to prepare his team for this monumental game. He not only showed his players tapes of North Carolina State beating Houston for the 1983 title, and Villanova shocking Georgetown for the 1985 title, but he also got out the tape of the Buster Douglas upset of Tyson in Japan in the early '90s.
"We just wanted to show them that anything is possible if you believe," Indiana assistant John Treloar said.
"Not even my girlfriend thought we would win," Indiana senior Dane Fife said. "She told me her mom was going to be back home in Bloomington and wanted to go out Friday night. So, I don't think she gave us a chance."
But the Hoosiers must have bought into every last second of motivational tape. The Hoosiers weren't more talented than Duke. It's not even close. They were down 17 points to the Blue Devils in the first half. They were down five with 2:40 remaining. They even essentially gave Duke a chance to win the game when Jason Williams, the player of the year, was fouled by Fife, on a 3-pointer with three seconds left with the Hoosiers up 74-70. It was a foul that Fife called maybe the "dumbest play in Indiana basketball history."
But Williams missed the free throw and Carlos Boozer, he of the 80-percent shooting percentage his last 12 games, missed a putback two feet from the basket before Indiana's Jeffrey Newton grabbed the rebound for the win.
"It's surreal right now," Fife said. "We're on a mission. The seniors and the players who have been here the longest came here to play for Coach Knight. We had a coaching change and that happens everywhere. But we made a great adjustment. And luckily we found another great coach.
"Coach Davis has done a decent job with this squad. We're a bunch of guys with a few athletes who mostly can't run and can't jump. The only thing we have is a tremendous will to win and compete. Whether it takes us all the way, we'll see. But you have to have luck in this tournament."
But it wasn't a fluke. Indiana was prepared. Davis said he called on friend Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson for advice.
"He told me to let Duke see you defensively, keep going inside, and don't get away from that," Davis said. "We didn't. No matter how bad we looked, we knew we were going to get a basket, going inside. I told my guys that they won't make tough shots all night. They can't keep up this pace."
Duke didn't and Indiana was there at the end of the game, right where it needed to be to pull off the shocker of the tournament -- the game no one thought the Hoosiers could win.
But the Rupp Arena fans, or at least the Kentucky fans who sold their tickets to Indiana, were behind the Hoosiers. This was a Hoosiers crowd, with any locals going with the lesser of two evils for two of Kentucky's most hated rivals.
"If we don't win Saturday, then this win won't mean anything," said Davis. Then he smiled and said, "I told you. I told you we could win."
Davis believed it. So, did, his players and, in the end, that's all that mattered.
Unbelievable? Not anymore.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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