The best ballers on the court for the Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team during its NCAA Tournament game Thursday may have been a pair of cheerleaders.
After a ball got stuck on top of the backboard during Indiana's game against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Portland, Oregon, Hoosiers cheerleader Nathan paris hoisted teammate Cassidy Cerny 13 feet up into the air to retrieve it, saving the day and providing the tournament's first viral moment.
The ball got stuck when Saint Mary’s was up 45-29 early in the second half. A referee stood on a folding chair and tried to poke the ball free with a mop handle, but he wasn't able to reach it.
That's when the cheerleading squad got involved.
“They kept trying different ways and nothing really was working," said Paris, who appeared with Cerny on TODAY Friday. "And so all of us kind of looked at each other and our captain, Ethan, (said), ‘We need the tallest guy to lift somebody up to see if we can get to the top of the backboard.'
“So, I’m one of the tallest on the team, so I grabbed Cassidy and said, ‘Maybe this’ll work,'" he said.
As Cerny knocked the ball loose from a camera mount on top of the backboard, the arena erupted in cheers.
“Now, she’s got it,” CBS play-by-play announcer Andrew Catalon said on the broadcast. “Oh, what a play!”
“The cheerleader saves the day! And that’s her one shining moment,” Catalon said.
“The cheerleader is the hero in Portland!” he added.
Cerny told TODAY she was enjoying her moment in the spotlight.
“(It’s) very overwhelming, she said. “It’s been very cool and very interesting to see how many people have seen the video and are reaching out. It’s just been really cool."
Paris said the fact that he and Cerna were the ones receiving headlines and attention was a nice change of pace.
“As cheerleaders, we’re always looking for a reaction from the crowd, so for us to be doing something that gets that kind of reaction is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said.
The cheerleaders may have saved the game, but they couldn’t save it for their own team. The 12th-seeded Hoosiers fell to the 5th-seeded Gaels, 82 to 53. Saint Mary’s advances to the second round of the tournament in the East Region and will play UCLA on Saturday.
Drew Weisholtz is a reporter for TODAY Digital, focusing on pop culture, nostalgia and trending stories. He has seen every episode of “Saved by the Bell” at least 50 times, longs to perfect the crane kick from “The Karate Kid” and performs stand-up comedy, while also cheering on the New York Yankees and New York Giants. A graduate of Rutgers University, he is the married father of two kids who believe he is ridiculous.