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From the Inside: The Fall of Assembly Hall

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana has a t-shirt gatling gun.

I don’t know why this sticks out as such a perfect metaphor, but it is. I didn’t see it at first, I heard it. Sitting way way way up in press row, it was a quick successions of deep punches in my chest that caused me to look down and see the giant spinning contraption explode out t-shirt after t-shirt with efficiency and power.

When you walk into Assembly Hall, it’s hard to not be impressed. I had never attended a college basketball game at another campus. Mackey Arena is what I was raised on. It’s brick familiar, even its recent renovations hold more nostalgia than newness, and I love it. But this place felt different.

The bright white, the open windows, but mostly the height of the place. Mackey arena has its charm, but the concession area also kinda feels like a tunnel that goes in a circle. When you walk into Assembly Hall, it feels a little bit like you’ve just stepped foot into the atrium to basketball heaven.

It’s the intimacy of the place in parallel with the structure that resonates with me as the meaning of basketball in Indiana. When you first walk into Assembly hall, you can enter the lower level of seating, on the baseline side of the court. When you walk through that small entry way, you walk into a strange sensation that feels like home, even as an enemy of the state university. The seats to the right and left of you escape up so high that you think they might have put them up there to offer the Basketball Gods a place to sit and watch a basketball game, but there, on the ground level, it almost looks like every high school gymnasium in the state. It feels like every high school gym in Indiana. The rising seats to the right and left just shadows, vanishing away as you hone in on all the players in nostalgic pin stripes, the old wood colored a varnished yellow.

Often times, Purdue and Indiana have stood against each other: in bars, on flights, on message boards, and on courts. But the game of basketball is beyond gold and black, beyond cream and crimson. That’s what struck me most. How much this felt like brotherhood, a shared love, even while the sight of all the candy-striped pants made me want to vomit.

Towards the end of a close game that would eventually go to my road Boilers, Thomas Bryant went at Caleb Swanigan. It was the best player on each team, who play relatively the same position, both with NBA aspirations, going at each other with the game on the line - one on one. It was the most pure of basketball moments.

It will be the play that outlasts the game, for its bizarre result - a double foul?!?!?!? - but also for its potential as a metaphor. Two teams, often times the two best at basketball - Butler’s recent ascension not forgotten - going against each other, with hate and love and mutual respect intermingling somehow in the matter of seconds.

Just for a double foul to be called. Despite a charging foul and blocking foul being antithesis to one another, there it was. The two were both guilty and they would both be gone. The two best players on the court, both fouling out on the same play. Neither side happy, both nervous with the score and the exit of their starting centers, but both realizing the occasional whimsical nature of basketball. These things just happen. It’s bizarre but beautiful, basketball at its finest, decided by skill and heart but also uncertain whistles and lowered shoulders and moving feet.

I am Purdue, through and through. Give me Mackey for every game here on out. But I’m also from Indiana. I love basketball. So does IU.

Assembly Hall is a mecca of college basketball. It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that, especially when Purdue wins there.