I was a student at Indiana University during its roundball glory days. Coach Robert Montgomery Knight roamed the sidelines in a plaid jacket, and it seemed there was never a college basketball discussion that didn’t include a mention of the Hoosiers. Granted, I’ve never quite forgiven Coach Knight for winning a national title the year before I enrolled and the year after I graduated … but there was an NIT title in that span of 1976-1980 that at least gave me a taste of that basketball glory. I’m still among those fans who think Bob Knight pretty much hung the moon … 10 feet above the playing surface.
But when I moved away from Indiana, it became increasingly difficult to follow the Hoosiers. Odd that some places didn’t understand the value of Hoosier basketball, but there you go. Living now in Florida, where the Gators have shown some basketball prowess but football is still king, it’s difficult sometimes to find even a box score in the Florida Times-Union, let alone be able to catch a game on television. The Hoosiers’ troubles over the past few years had relegated them to the back of the sports section, and only merited a mention when they played a nationally-ranked team.
So while watching the last of the Ohio State game on ESPN Saturday, and the up-next was undefeated Indiana against undefeated and #1-ranked Kentucky … well I knew what the rest of MY afternoon would be like. Christmas lights all hung, I settled onto the couch for what would arguably be one of the great games in college basketball history.
If you follow college basketball, you already know that the final score was 73-72 Indiana on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Christian Watford. By that time, Andie was home from work and I was grilling steaks for dinner, a benefit of living in Florida in December. She thought I was just pacing, and in a way, I was. So many times through the Kelvin Sampson era IU basketball had become difficult to watch, and the program had served up a lot of disappointment over the years since Coach Knight was let go. I fiercely wanted the Hoosiers to win, but knew that Kentucky was ranked #1 for a reason. Down two with 5.6 seconds to play and the ball, it was certainly not a foregone conclusion.
But Indiana fans know that down 2 and 5.6 seconds to play is an opportunity. And Watford took advantage.
As a student at IU, I think I had the opportunity to be in Assembly Hall only once. My part-time job at the local radio station in Bedford, where I grew up, was to insert the local commercials into Indiana basketball games. So my path to Hoosier fandom came from being on campus during the week, and listening to Don Fisher call play-by-play … as he still does … on the Indiana University Basketball Network. The game I attended was Indiana vs Notre Dame. The Irish were heavily favored … and they never led in the game. That’s the kind of Indiana Basketball I was accustomed to. I do recall missing hearing Don call the game for me … but that’s another post.
So Saturday’s victory was special. The students pouring onto the court after the fantastic finish, which nearly left Dickey V speechless, was the result of years of pent-up frustration triggered by a three-point nothing-but-net shot with 0.0 showing on the clock. I felt like if I could have jumped through the TV screen to join them, I’d have been out there in that sea of red.
In the big scheme of things, a mid-season basketball win seems like a small thing. But for Hoosier fans who have waited for this moment, it was special. And honestly, we all knew it was just a matter of time.
After all, as the players and coaches said after the game … “It’s Indiana.”