Iona couldn't pull a 'Hoosiers' at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but Alabama basketball tasted the history | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

INDIANAPOLIS — From the outside, Hinkle Fieldhouse looks exactly what it is: a cathedral of college basketball.

What matters most, though, are the details on the inside. What other gymnasium in the country has numbered plaques for those who want to take a walking tour, as it the building were a national battlefield? What other basketball court essentially co-starred in a Hollywood movie? Where else could a player miss a free throw at a critical juncture and honestly tell his coach that the sun was in his eyes? 

All that history comes with a toll, as you will quickly find out if you are sitting on the second or third level. There is a fairly modern scoreboard hanging overhead but no room for amenities like elevators or escalators. If you want to occupy those seats, the walk up the four flights of corridors will verify that your basketball fan card is not a forgery. 

Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats did not make his players climb to the top or, as far as we know, measure the baskets the way Gene Hackman did in “Hoosiers.” That doesn’t mean he didn’t try to instill some sense of history into the Crimson Tide before Saturday's opening-round victory over Iona.

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“Historic place,” Oats said. “It’s awesome. It’s cool we get to play a game there, to be honest with you. We’ll try to help our players understand the historic significance, although I’m sure they’ll get it all.”

In  this photo taken on Tuesday, March 30, 2010, Hinkle Fieldhouse is shown on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis. Butler will be appearing in its first NCAA college basketball Final Four this weekend in Indianapolis, a few miles south of the campus. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Too much has probably been made of whether the players ever watched “Hoosiers,” which is, after all, 35 years old. I didn’t watch “Knute Rockne, All-American” when I was young. That doesn’t mean I hated Notre Dame football or hadn’t heard of “Win One For The Gipper.” It’s just that the movie was old. There are other legendary buildings where these players have not played: Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Pauley Pavilion. Yet they would have a sense of history. 

The lesson, ultimately, is that the magic isn’t in a movie. It’s in the atmosphere. Hinkle Fieldhouse isn’t overly large. The fans are on top of the action. That’s why a crowd of maybe 1,500, including a large contingent of Alabama fans, were able to make it feel like a March Madness game. The more No. 15 Iona seemed capable of writing the kind of Cinderella story that millions of NCAA watchers love, the more electric the atmosphere became.

If this were a normal year, fans of other teams in the bracket would have yelled for the Gaels. This year, because of COVID-19, there were no large groups of fans hoping to see a No. 2 seed cleared out of the field. But the Iona fans, Indianapolis locals and Butler students, who made a good showing, did their best to fill that gap. 

The emotion ultimately couldn’t carry Iona to the finish line. The Gaels ran out of gas at the end, stamina eroded by Alabama’s unrelenting defense and their own grasp of reality, That’s not to fault a tremendous effort. It’s just that sometimes, even when you in a building that basketball made famous and Hollywood burnished, you don’t get the Hollywood ending. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt