Collector’s Note: For many years, Chevrolet has awarded honors for a “player of the game” in college basketball. The collegiate athlete honored would have a donation made in his/her name at their college or university by Chevrolet. Additionally, three plaques would be created: one for the student athlete, one for the university/college, and one for Chevrolet. From time to time, these awards will come up for auction, but for the most part, they are rare and sought after.
The 1984-85 season was not kind to Coach Bob Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers.
For a team that was expected to contend for a Big Ten title, IU finished with a record of 19-14 overall, including 7-11 in Big Ten play. This included 6 losses in their final 7 conference games. Most Indiana fans, however, remember, the ’85 Big Ten season in one particular moment.
John Feinstein immortalized the 1985-86 Indiana Hoosiers in his bestselling book, A Season On The Brink. Feinstein was granted unprecedented access to the Indiana basketball squad, which ended the season 21-8 overall (13-5 in the Big Ten Conference) with a shocking ousting by the hands of 14-seed Cleveland State in the NCAA Tournament.
Heading into the 1986-87 season, three seniors, Steve Alford, Todd Meier, and Daryl Thomas, knew that time was running out to make a splash during their Indiana careers. Bob Knight had never had a group of four-year graduating players not leave Bloomington without winning a Big Ten title. The three aforementioned had come close the previous season, but not close enough.
Indiana had graduated four players in 1985-86, but welcomed highly-touted junior college studs in big man Dean Garrett, and lightning-quick guard, Keith Smart. The addition of Smart and Garrett to a rotation of Ricky Calloway, Daryl Thomas, and Steve Alford gave the Hoosiers a formidable force heading into the season.
Steve Alford, Indiana’s All-American and best outside shooter, would be able to take advantage of the new three-point line introduced to the college basketball season, and to be used during the 1987 NCAA Tournament. Alford would end the season shooting an astounding 53% from behind the line.
The Hoosiers would begin the season facing the Soviet Union in exhibition play, escaping with a 97-95 come from behind victory in Assembly Hall on November 16th. Following a victory at home against Montana State, the Hoosiers would head north to South Bend to face off against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. IU would emerge victorious 67-62, behind 26 points from Steve Alford, and a stingy 2-3 zone from the Hoosiers for more than half the game.
Yes, a Bob Knight-coached team would play a zone for the first time ever.
Following a victory over 13th-ranked Kentucky, the Hoosiers would drop their first game of the season at Vanderbilt. It would not be until well into the Big Ten conference season that the Hoosiers would lose another game. During this winning stretch, junior Dean Garrett demonstrated his impressive low post abilities, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals, and going for 17 points and 16 rebounds against UNC-Wilmington. Steve Alford showed his sharp-shooting abilities in a 83-54 win over Princeton on December 26th going 8-11 from behind the arc.
Indiana would open Big Ten Conference play with three straight road games and three straight wins against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan. Keith Smart, the dazzling quick junior guard from Baton Rouge, torched the Buckeyes for 31 points (including 5-5 from outside) in a 92-80 victory. Indiana would get a scare in Ann Arbor, as the Hoosiers would escape with a 85-84 victory, as Steve Alford hit a runner in the lane to clinch the victory. One of the greatest sights at the end of the game is an overly jubilant Bob Knight on the sidelines.
Following blowout victories over Wisconsin (103-65) and Northwestern (95-43) in Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers would drop their first conference game of the season to #1 ranked Iowa, 101-88. This would be the first time that a team would score 100 points or more against a Knight-coached Indiana team. Senior Daryl Thomas would lead the Hoosiers with 22 points.
Unblemished would be a great way to describe the next eight games following the Iowa loss in Iowa City.
Indiana would go 8-0, including victories over 12th ranked Illinois and 4th ranked Purdue. The Hoosiers also got revenge against the Iowa Hawkeyes, ultimately hurting any chance of a Big Ten title for Iowa.
The Hoosiers now stood at 14-1 in conference play, and held a 1.5 game lead over second place Purdue with only three games remaining. However, games on the road against Purdue and Illinois remained, and, proved to be damaging for Indiana. The Hoosiers would fall in Lafayette, 75-64, and would lose a close one to the Illini, 69-67.
The Purdue Boilermakers were now in position to win the Big Ten outright, and, more importantly, to secure a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region, where games would be played in Indianapolis. However, Purdue was unable to take care of business in their final game of the season and was pummeled in Ann Arbor 104-68 by Michigan. The loss would be devastating to Purdue, and beneficial to Indiana, as the Hoosiers were able to share a conference title with Purdue, but more importantly, secure the #1 seed in the Midwest Region.
Playing in friendly confines proved beneficial for the Hoosiers.
With a victory over Farfield in the first game, Indiana would take on Auburn in the round of 32 at the “Hoosier Dome”. In a game where the Hoosiers would fall behind to the Tigers early, Indiana road the back of Steve Alford’s sharp shooting to emerge a 107-90 victor. Alford would go for 31 points, including seven threes, earning “Player of the Game” honors.
Indiana would advance to the Sweet Sixteen to face Duke, the NCAA runner-up in 1986. The Blue Devils were coached by Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at Army, coached with Knight at Army, and, was a graduate assistant for Knight at Indiana during the 1974-75 season. Indiana would lead at half by ten points, and were able to hold off Duke, 88-82. Keith Smart and Ricky Calloway led Indiana with 21 points each, with the other three Indiana starters scoring in double figures as well.
The regional final would have the Hoosiers facing 10th seed LSU, coached by Dale Brown. The Tigers proved to be a formidable opponent for Indiana, as the Hoosiers would trail most of the game, and faced a nine-point deficit with under five minutes remaining. The deficit would be cut to one, 76-75, with under 30 seconds remaining.
The savior of the season proved to be Cincinnati native Ricky Callaway, who rebounded a Daryl Thomas missed shot to score and clinch the Hoosier victory, 77-76. One of the classic Bob Knight statements came from the post-game press conference as he stated: “I was worried about losing until I looked down the floor and saw Dale Brown. Then I knew we had a chance.”
Indiana would be returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1981, this time in New Orleans, Louisiana, the hometown of Indiana guard, Keith Smart. Indiana would face the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the national semifinals. In front of a crowd of 64,949 (a then record for a college basketball game), many considered the IU/UNLV game to be worthy of a NCAA title game.
The Hoosiers decided to come out running, hoping an uptempo offense could counter-balance the UNLV attack. Indiana would lead 53-47 at the break, but had to play catch-up in the second half to erase a UNLV lead and ultimately prevail, 97-93 behind 33 points from Steve Alford.
The title game would have the Hoosiers facing Syracuse, who had defeated Rick Pitino’s Providence squad in the semifinals. With three ties and ten lead changes in the first half, neither team was able to gain much momentum. Indiana would go into the half with a one point lead (34-33), thanks to a Steve Alford three pointer with one second remaining. Syracuse switched defenses often in the first half from their signature 2-3 zone to man-to-man, and box-in-one in an attempt to throw Indiana’s offense off.
Syracuse would come out strong in the second half, building a lead of six points with about 12 minutes remaining. Keith Smart, playing in his home city, shined in the second half for the Hoosiers and brought Indiana back almost single-handed. In fact, of Smart’s 21 total points, 17 came in the second half.
Syracuse would lead 73-70 when Smart’s bucket cut the lead to one at 73-72. IU would implement the full court press with 30 seconds to go, hoping for a quick foul. It proved to be a great strategy as freshman Derrick Coleman was fouled and would head to the foul line. With the pressure on, Coleman’s first attempt in the 1-1 barely grazed the front of the rim, and the Hoosiers had the ball with a chance to win. Now, we all know the rest of the story:
Smart’s shot would leave him with 21 points for the game, and also added six assists and five rebounds. He would also be named MVP of the Final Four for his performance.
It would be Steve Alford, however, who would be the most decorated of all the Hoosiers. In addition to earning Big Ten MVP, Alford would also be named a consensus First-Team All-American. Bob Knight had earned his eighth Big Ten title, and his third NCAA Championship. Additionally, Indiana would eclipse the 30-win mark for the first time since going undefeated (32-0) in 1976.