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College Basketball 1975-1980

July 6, 2013

magic bird casual

A young Magic Johnson and Larry Bird *photo courtesy of finding dulcenia

The post-Wooden era in College Basketball did start with UCLA making the Final Four in 1976.  But they ran into a buzzsaw that would not be denied this time.

The Indiana Hoosiers had the #1 ranked team for most of the 1975 season but suffered their first loss of the season in the Mideast Regional Finals to Kentucky 92-90 as All-American Scott May could only play 7 minutes with a broken arm (playing any minutes with a broken arm is an accomplishment).

For 1976, Indiana returned 4 of 5 starters and 3 of them were seniors.  Scott May, Quinn Buckner and Bobby Wilkerson were joined by fellow senior Tom Abernethy.  Rounding out the starting five was junior All-American center Kent Benson.  The Hoosiers were ranked number 1 in the pre-season polls and stayed there the entire season.  They became the last undefeated team in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball History.

Indiana took down some pretty good teams in their final three games.  In the Mideast Regional Final this season, they took on the team that was #2 in the polls for most of the season.  Marquette University coached by Al McGuire.  Marquette featured seniors Earl Tatum and Lloyd Walton as well as junior Bo Ellis, each of whom played on the 1974 NCAA Finalist team that lost to N.C. State.  The Warriors (now Golden Eagles) also had sophomore point guard Butch Lee (who almost single-handedly led his Puerto Rican National Team to an upset versus the U.S. in the 1976 Olympics) as well as freshmen Jerome Whitehead and Bernard Toone.

Indiana made runs to get ahead of Marquette but the Warriors kept battling back.  They were finally done in though when McGuire committed two technical fouls near the end of the game.  The Hoosiers survived 65-56 as Benson led them with 18 and May had 15.  Tatum was the only Warrior in double figures with 22.

Next in the National Semifinal, Indiana took on UCLA with Gene Bartow as their new coach.  The Bruins still had stars Richard Washington, Marques Johnson and Andre McCarter.  Washington scored 5 quick points against Benson (and got him into foul trouble) before Indiana switched Abernethy to guard the All-American.  Washington was held scoreless until midway through the 2nd half.  It was only then that UCLA made a push but Indiana held them off 65-51.  Benson again led them with 16 while May and Abernethy contributed 14 and Buckner 12.  Washington led the Bruins with 15 but Johnson was the only other UCLA player in double figures with 12.

For the Championship Game, Indiana took on Big Ten rival Michigan.  The Wolverines were led by future NBA stars Rickey Green and Phil Hubbard.  They got off to a good start aided by Bobby Wilkerson getting knocked out after being struck by an inadvertent elbow from Michigan forward Wayman Britt.  Wilkerson was out cold for more than 5 minutes before being carried off the floor.  He did eventually regain consciousness and was all right.

Michigan took a 35-29 halftime lead before Indiana played perhaps the best 2nd half ever seen by any team, a fitting ending for the last undefeated team.  They outscored Michigan 57-33 in the half to win 86-68.  Scott May was tournament MOP finishing with 26 versus Michigan.  Benson was right behind him with 25.  Buckner added 16 and Abernethy 11.  This would be Bobby Knight‘s first NCAA title.

indiana 1976

Bobby Knight stands by while Scott May and Quinn Buckner hold the trophy *photo courtesy of Great Lakes Prep

For 1977, Michigan would get the pre-season #1 nod while Marquette was #2.  Marquette would struggle a bit during the season with 7 losses but would eventually find their way to the Final Four, as Al McGuire announced he was calling it quits after the season.  Meanwhile, Michigan would lose out in the Regional Finals to Cedric Maxwell and University of North Carolina @ Charlotte (called UNCC at the time).

UNCC and Marquette would play in one Semifinal and it would be a classic.  They were joined at the Final Four in Atlanta by UNLV coached by Jerry Tarkanian and led by Reggie Theus and North Carolina, who was missing center Tom LaGarde, but still had Walter Davis and Phil Ford as well as freshman Mike O’Koren.  O’Koren scored 31 versus Vegas to lead UNC into the National Championship Game with an 84-83 victory.  They would take on the winner between Marquette and UNCC.

March 26, 1977 – NCAA National Semifinal: UNC-Charlotte 49ers 49, Marquette Warriors 51

This game got off to a slow start as both teams were tight.  It was tied at 5 with more than 5 minutes gone by.  But then Marquette got its game going.  Guard Jim Boylan scored back-to-back baskets to put the Warriors up 11-5.  Then after a UNCC basket, Jerome Whitehead got a tip-in and All-American Butch Lee got a breakaway layup.  Then Cedric ‘Cornbread’ Maxwell got his first basket on an offensive rebound.

Maxwell was nicknamed Cornbread because he looked like former UCLA star Keith Wilkes when he starred in Cornbread, Earl, and Me.  That nickname followed Maxwell into the NBA where he starred for the Boston Celtics.  Meanwhile, Whitehead scored on two more offensive rebounds to put Marquette up 19-9.  Marquette’s run continued when super-sub Bernard Toone hit a jumper and Boylan hit a layup over Maxwell.

At this point, Marquette’s offense started to get stale and slow down while UNCC found their rhythm.  After forward Kevin King scored on an offensive rebound, fellow forward Lew Massey followed up a King miss on the break and the Charlotte bench and fans started to get pumped.  Massey scored back-to-back baskets and Maxwell got a layup on guard Chad Kinch’s assist.  After Whitehead got a layup on a Butch Lee assist, Maxwell scored a layup while being fouled with under a minute to go in the half.  The three-point play gave Maxwell 8 points along with 9 rebounds (Whitehead had 10 first half boards) and cut the lead to 25-22 at halftime.

The 49ers momentum continued to start the 2nd half.  After a Whitehead free throw, Massey scored on another jumper and then senior guard Melvin Watkins (who would later coach the 49ers) hit a pull-up jumper from the free throw line for a tie game.  After Boylan set up senior Bo Ellis for a dunk, Massey hit back-to-back jumpers for a UNCC lead, their first of the game.  The 49ers would take a 35-30 lead on a Maxwell three-point play as Ellis committed his fourth foul.  But Marquette would get back into it led by Lee and Toone.  Whitehead then gave them the lead at 38-37 on another offensive putback.  Jerome then scored the next six Marquette points for a 44-39 lead.

But Charlotte would go on a run and take a 45-44 lead on Massey’s 14th point.  Then with 1:41 left, Watkins hit two free throws for a 3-point lead.  In the pre-shot clock era, a 3-point lead with 1:41 left was pretty big.  Watkins though committed his fifth foul on a reach-in. Even though that didn’t result in free throws, it would put Marquette into the bonus on the next foul and it fouled out Charlotte’s toughest defender on Butch Lee.  Lee responded by knocking down back-to-back jumpers (sandwiched around a Maxwell missed from end of a one-and-one) for a 48-47 Marquette lead.  Then with under 20 seconds left, Massey was short on a jumper and Marquette rebounded and got it ahead to backup guard Gary Rosenberger on the break.  Rosenberger was fouled before getting off a shot but he hit only 1-of-2 and UNCC got a timeout with 10 seconds left.

The 49ers got it inbounds to Maxwell.  Cedric was always a clever ball-handler for a big man and he dribbled between his legs at the top of the key and then went into the lane fairly uncontested and hit a runner with 3 seconds left to tie the game.  Marquette called timeout but got the ball under their own basket.  No problem.  Butch Lee threw a full-length pass that should have been intercepted by Maxwell, but if we can compare Cornbread to a football safety in this situation, we’d say we was a safety instead of a wide receiver because he had bad hands.  The pass went off of both of Maxwell’s hands right to Jerome Whitehead in the lane.  Whitehead went up for what looked to be a dunk but he lost the ball on his way up.  The ball was out of his hands before the time expired (as shown to TV viewers by replays but the refs weren’t able to look at the time, they could only ask the clock operator) and it banked off the glass.  As it banked, Whitehead’s hand grabbed the rim and the ball ricochet off his hand (GOALTENDING!! it obviously wasn’t called) and into the basket.

Marquette had won on a dramatic play (that isn’t talked about at all now) and now would play North Carolina to try and see if they could send Al McGuire into retirement on top.

UNC-Charlotte starters (points scored)

Lew Massey (14) – Small Forward

Kevin King (4) – Power Forward

Cedric Maxwell (17) – Center

Melvin Watkins (6) – Point Guard

Chad Kinch (4) – Shooting Guard

UNC-Charlotte bench (points scored)

Jeff Gruber (4)

Phil Scott (0)

UNC-Charlotte Coach: Lee Rose

Marquette starters (points scored)

Bill Neary (0) – Small Forward

Bo Ellis (4) – Power Forward

Jerome Whitehead (21) – Center

Butch Lee (11) – Point Guard

Jim Boylan (8) – Shooting Guard

Marquette bench (points scored)

Gary Rosenberger (1)

Bernard Toone (6)

Marquette Coach: Al McGuire


Jerome Whitehead (#54 going up to block a Phil Ford shot in the Championship Game) had 21 points versus UNCC and hit the game-winner at the buzzer *photo courtesy of Bleacher Report

March 28, 1977 – National Championship Game: North Carolina Tarheels 59, Marquette Warriors 67

In a similar matter to the National Semifinal Game, Marquette got off a bit slowly but found its footing in a big way.  Bo Ellis and Walter Davis each got two early fouls but this didn’t turn out to be a factor.  About halfway through the first half, Marquette reserve shooter Gary Rosenberger gave the Warriors a 12-11 lead.  To this point, Butch Lee led the game with 6 points.  The teams matched for the next few minutes as Bernard Toone, Phil Ford, Lee, Davis, Ellis, and Mike O’Koren each hit field goals and it was 18-17 Marquette.

Lee then got his 11th point on a three-point play on a great one-on-one move where he got by his defender with a stop-and-go dribble.  Toone then hit a jumper and Jerome Whitehead got a putback when O’Koren couldn’t handle the defensive rebound.  In the middle of this run, Davis got his 3rd foul.  He would only score 2 points in the first half but made up for it in the 2nd.  Davis was playing this game with a broken finger.  Marquette grabbed a 29-18 lead when Ellis hit a jumper on an offensive rebound and Whitehead hit two free throws.  The Warriors had a few more highlight plays in the first half.  Ellis got a backdoor slam over O’Koren and a foul and Butch Lee broke the press by himself and went all the way for a layup.  Lee finished with 15 first half points.  But despite all this, Marquette was only up 39-27 at the half.  Their zone in the first half had stymied Carolina.

The Tarheels came out smoking in the 2nd half though as they displayed better ball movement against the zone.  The freshman O’Koren started by hitting a post shot over Whitehead and then blocking a Lee layup.  O’Koren a minute later scored 6 straight Carolina points before senior guard John Kuester and Davis each hit jumpers to tie the game at 41 with only a little more than 4 minutes gone by.  After Davis and Jim Boylan matched jumpers, Tarheel reserve Tom Zaliagiris stole an inbounds pass and took it all the way for a layup against Lee.  North Carolina led 45-43 at this point and after Marquette missed two shots before committing a loose ball foul, everyone anticipated the four corners.  Marquette switched to a man-to-man and forced a Carolina miss before Toone hit an elbow jumper at 12:40 to tie the game.

Marquette went back into its zone.  And even though it was tied, Dean Smith decided to slow the game down.  The four corners offense led brilliantly by Phil Ford ran off 3 minutes of the game.  Carolina thought they finally had a layup, but Ellis blocked reserve senior Bruce Buckley’s attempt.  Marquette then came back down and stalled 1:30 off the clock before Boylan got a backdoor layup.  The stalls seemed to slow both teams offense as Marquette skidded to a 51-49 lead with just over 2:00 left.  Carolina lost senior floor leader John Kuester to fouls and Marquette had the ball with a 53-49 lead with around 1:45 left when a big moment happened.

Marquette got it inbounds to Bernard Toone in the back court.  Toone was guarded closely by Mike O’Koren.  O’Koren reached in and ended up poking Toone in the eye.  There was no immediate discernible whistle so O’Koren kept reaching in trying to tie up Toone while Barnard was trying to hold onto the ball with his eye in great discomfort.  Toone in trying to get O’Koren off of him swung the elbows a little bit before play was stopped.  After a few minutes where everyone was wondering what was going on, it was finally deciphered that the refs had in fact called a foul on O’Koren on his reach-in (Toone ended up missing the front end of the one-and-one).  But the officials also called a flagrant foul on Toone for swinging the elbow.  Davis ended up making the two free throws on the flagrant to cut it to 53-51 but Marquette would end up getting the ball back.

This didn’t end up costing Marquette but that was a terrible call that could have changed the momentum.  The officials should have stopped it well before it got to the point of Toone swinging the elbows (especially considering they did call a foul on O’Koren).  Also, Toone really swing them that much (he still had both hands on the ball).  And still considering with all this that he had just been poked in the eye, so it was fortunate that he held onto the ball, it should have been handled better.

As it was, Toone’s one-and-one miss was Marquette’s only free throw miss in 15 attempts in the last two minutes.  Boylan, Ellis, and Rosenberger salted the game away from the stripe.  The only field goal for Marquette was Butch Lee getting away for a breakaway layup.  Davis meanwhile scored Carolina’s last 10 points, the last two on a long jumper at the buzzer to cut Marquette’s victory margin to 8.

Like John Wooden a few years before, Al McGuire went out on top.  McGuire was a tough NYC kid and in the final 10 seconds he had his head buried in his hands as he remembered all that had gotten him to that point.  He went into the locker room to clear his head because he wasn’t one to show his emotions in public.  McGuire had retired at the young coaching age of 48 because he had become bigger than the school and he didn’t feel that was right.  McGuire did not return to coaching.  He became a College Basketball analyst for NBC and CBS before his death in 2001.  Marquette did not make another Final Four until after his death.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Walter Davis (20) – Small Forward

Mike O’Koren (14) – Power Forward

Rich Yonakor (6) – Center

Phil Ford (6) – Point Guard

John Kuester (5) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Steve Krafcisin (2)

Tom Zaliagiris (4)

Dudley Bradley (2)

Bruce Buckley (0)

Jeff Wolf (0)

Dave Colescott (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Marquette starters (points scored)

Bill Neary (0) – Small Forward

Bo Ellis (14) – Power Forward

Jerome Whitehead (8) – Center

Butch Lee (19) – Point Guard

Jim Boylan (14) – Shooting Guard

Marquette bench (points scored)

Bernard Toone (6)

Gary Rosenberger (6)

Marquette Coach: Al McGuire


Al McGuire went out on top in 1977 *photo courtesy of Rich Clarkson

March 27, 1978 – National Championship Game: Duke Blue Devils 88, Kentucky Wildcats 94

The Kentucky team that had lost to UCLA in the 1975 National Championship Game with 4 freshmen ended up winning the 1976 NIT Championship before losing in the Regional Finals to North Carolina in 1977.  Those 4 freshmen were now seniors – Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Mike Phillips and James Lee and Kentucky had not won a championship in 20 years.  So the pressure was on Coach Joe B. Hall who had succeeded Adolph Rupp in 1972 to win that National Championship.  Kentucky came into the Championship Game at 29-2 but it would be a failure of a year if they didn’t win.  Along with their four seniors, Kentucky also featured sophomore point guard Kyle Macy and junior guard Truman Claytor as well as lots of subs.

Their opponents in the 1978 National Championship Game were the young surprising Duke Blue Devils.  Not only had the Blue Devils not made the Final Four since 1966 but they hadn’t made the NCAA tournament itself since 1966.  Duke’s lineup featured a junior back court of point guard John Harrell and two-guard Jim Spanarkel.  Sophomore Mike Gminski (who was only 18 despite being a sophomore) was in the middle.  The forwards were both freshmen, Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard.  Duke held off Notre Dame’s comeback attempt in the National Semifinals, 90-86.  Notre Dame had future pros Kelly Tripucka, Bill Laimbeer, and Bill Hanzlik.  Kentucky beat Arkansas 64-59 in the National Semifinals.  The Razorbacks featured “the Triplets” (two of which went to the NBA, Ron Brewer and Sidney Moncrief – the third was Marvin Delph).

As normal for the start of a National Championship Game, both teams came out nervous and scoring was slow to start.  Mike Phillips got 3 early fouls and most of his playing time was taken by James Lee.  Lee gave the Wildcats a 13-8 lead with a slam on a Claytor assist and Given’s 2nd field goal gave Kentucky a 19-12 lead.  Duke might have been jittery from the field but from the line they hit their first 12.  In fact, Duke’s 12 free throws were contributed to their first 20 points.  Gene Banks’ first field goal from just inside the left elbow tied the game at 22.  Givens hit a pullup jumper for a 27-24 Kentucky lead and his 7th point.  Then after Gminski hit two free throws, Kentucky reserve Jay Shidler hit a jumper.  Shidler’s jumper was significant because that would be the last Kentucky point in the first half by anyone not named Givens.  Goose found a hole in Duke’s zone defense in the middle of the lane.  When he got the ball he was aggressive.  Givens hit three consecutive jumpers from in that paint area and two free throws.  His tip-in gave Kentucky a 39-34 lead and it was Given’s 10th consecutive point.  Spanarkel and Banks each hit two free throws (Spanarkel’s free throws came after Phillips’ 4th foul) to cut it to 39-38 with under a minute to go in the half.  Givens hit another shot in the lane and Duke went for the last shot.  It failed at about 13 seconds when Gminski thought he had a layup but the shot was blocked.  Givens then hit a pull-up jumper with 10 seconds left.  Then Duke got the ball to Banks who raced down court but charged into Givens with 3 seconds left.  Jack hit his two free throws for his 23rd point including 16 in a row and a 45-38 halftime lead for Kentucky.

The big moment of the 2nd half came early.  A Kenny Dennard tip-in cut Kentucky’s lead to 49-46.  After Claytor hit a jumper, James Lee committed his 4th foul and Banks went to the line for two.  At this moment, it was mentioned by play-by-play man Dick Enberg that apparently a note had been dropped to stadium security people threatening Gene Banks’ life.  Security was beefed up and just about everyone was informed except the Duke players (including Banks himself).  Coach Bill Foster and the coaching staff was aware.  In a bit of a sad irony maybe (as if Banks heard Enberg mentioning this to the TV audience) Banks missed his only two free throws of the game.  Kentucky got the rebound and Claytor looked like he shuffled his feet trying to avoid some back court pressure.  Foster thought he traveled and voiced or motioned some displeasure toward the official who called a technical on the Duke coach.  Macy hit the two technical free throws and then found Rick Robey for a dunk and a 55-46 lead.  Then Givens hit back-to-back jumpers for a 60-48 lead.  A few minutes later, a Robey inside move and reserve layup gave Kentucky a 14-point lead.  Then Givens scored on an offensive rebound for a 66-50 lead and his 31st point.  Duke made a bit of a charge as Spanarkel got a three-point play and Dennard hit on a put back.  However, Kentucky answered each Duke rally and Givens hit a jumper from the right wing to give Kentucky an 88-75 lead with a few minutes left.  This jumper also gave Goose his 41st point.  This is surprisingly the latest time that anybody scored 40 points in a National Championship Game.  Blue Devil reserve Bob Bender’s three-point play (Bender had transferred from Indiana and was a part of the 1976 Championship team) and two Gminski free throws cut it to 88-80 with 1:51 left.  But 30 seconds later Kentucky had added three free throws to their lead.  But Duke didn’t fold.  Banks hit Dennard for a layup and then after a Givens miss, Gminski hit Dennard for a reverse layup on the break.  It was 91-84 with 52 seconds left.  Givens missed a one-and-one but Duke turned the ball over.  Macy hit a free throw at 35 seconds and Dennard was called for his 5th foul on a charge ten seconds later.  However, Bender stole the ball and hit two free throws and then Gminski hit a jumper in the lane at 12 seconds and it was 92-88.  But James Lee finished the game with a slam and Kentucky had its championship and could breathe a sigh of relief.

Kentucky would not win another championship for 18 years.  Robey and Macy went on to have some good years in the NBA.  Givens was with the Hawks for two years.  Meanwhile, Duke could not capitalize on their big game experience despite its young team.  They lost in the 2nd round to St. Johns in 1979 and to Purdue in the Regional Finals in 1980 after beating Kentucky 55-54.  Gminski, Banks, Spanarkel and Dennard would each gain some NBA experience.  After 1980, Bill Foster left to coach Northwestern and he was replaced by a man named Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke starters (points scored)

Gene Banks (22) – Small Forward

Kenny Dennard (10) – Power Forward

Mike Gminski (20) – Center

John Harrell (4) – Point Guard

Jim Spanarkel (21) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Bob Bender (7)

Jim Suddath (4)

Scott Goetsch (0)

Duke Coach: Bill Foster

Kentucky starters (points scored)

Jack Givens (41) – Small Forward

Rick Robey (20) – Power Forward

Mike Phillips (4) – Center

Kyle Macy (9) – Point Guard

Truman Claytor (8) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

James Lee (8)

Jay Shidler (2)

LaVon Williams (2)

Chuck Aleksinas (0)

Fred Cowan (0)

Tim Stephens (0)

Dwane Casey (0)

Kentucky Coach: Joe B. Hall


Jack Givens shoots over Kenny Dennard for two of his 41 points in the 1978 Championship Game.  In the foreground is Rick Robey (#53), Mike Gminski (boxing Robey out), Kyle Macy (#4) and John Harrell (behind Macy in shot) *photo courtesy of NCAA photos

1979 was the year that brought attention to college basketball that it had never seen before.  And it was because of two players, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson and Larry Bird.  Magic was the 6’8″ point guard of the Michigan State Spartans while Bird was bringing attention to unheralded Indiana State.

Michigan State was pre-season #7 ranked before moving up to #1 in early January.  Then the Spartans lost 4 of their first 8 Big Ten games and had to win an overtime game versus Ohio State (who was 8-0 in the Big Ten at the time) to get momentum going and win 10 consecutive games to finish in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title.  The Spartans then rolled through the tournament, beating #1 ranked Notre Dame 80-68 in the Regional Finals and destroying Ivy League Champion Penn 101-67 in the first game of National Semifinal Saturday.

Indiana State was undefeated but not without its scares.  In a game at New Mexico State, reserve forward Bob Heaton hit a shot from over half-court to send the game into overtime after Bird had fouled out.  Heaton came to the rescue again in the Regional Finals versus Sidney Moncrief and Arkansas.  His left-handed shot in the lane rolled around the rim and went in for a 73-71 Sycamores victory and a Final Four berth in their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.  They would face off with talented DePaul who featured freshman of the year and future pro Mark Aguirre and guard senior leader Gary Garland from East Orange, New Jersey.  The rest of the starting lineup featured Garland’s back court partner from East Orange sophomore Clyde Bradshaw, and forwards Curtis Watkins and James Mitchem.  These five players were known as the iron five and lived up to it against Indiana State as legendary coach Ray Meyer didn’t substitute once.

March 24, 1979 – NCAA National Semifinal: (#2) DePaul 74, (#1) Indiana State 76

Larry Bird immediately showed off his instinctiveness.  On the tip-off, leaper Alex Gilbert tipped the ball to Bird who immediately touched-passed the ball to Carl Nicks for a layup.  Then Larry hit a turn-around bank shot after DePaul’s Curtis Watkins (playing on an injured knee) hit a jumper.  Then DePaul’s offense became the Gary Garland showcase.  Garland made four straight outside shots to put DePaul up 12-8.  But Indiana State tied it when Nicks made a jumper and Bird hit on an offensive rebound after Larry missed what would turn out to be his only miss of the first half in 12 field goal attempts.  Bird hit back-to-back jumpers then a layup on a Brad Miley assist.  DePaul matched this though as both teams shot amazingly well in the first half.  Aguirre got his first field goal on a layup to tie the game at 18.  But Bird kept scoring, hitting a jumper over Watkins for a Sycamores lead.  There are many DePaul fans wondering if Watkins had been healthy if he could have held Bird down in this game.  Indiana State though shot 75% from the field for the first half with Bird going 11-for-12.  DePaul shot 62% and maintained contact as Garland and Mitchem hit jumpers.  In fact DePaul took a 38-34 lead when a pass inside to Aguirre was deflected away but picked up by Watkins for a layup.  But the Sycamores’ Steve Reed hit a jumper and then Bird got the roll on a high-arcing shot in the lane.  Bird got his 23rd point of the half with 7 seconds left in it on a runner in the lane.  That gave the Sycamores a 45-42 lead.

The second half didn’t start off well for the Blue Demons.  Bird immediately got a layup and two free throws.  Then Watkins got his 4th foul and a long jumper from Bird gave Indiana State a 55-46 lead.  Then Nicks found Gilbert with an over-the-head pass for a slam and the Sycamores were up 11.  DePaul cut it to 8 when Clyde Bradshaw got a steal and a slam.  Then after a Nicks basket, Aguirre hit a jumper after going between the legs on the dribble and Mitchem hit a jumper and it was 61-57.  Bird hit reserve layup LeRoy Staley for a backdoor layup and then Regional Final hero Bob Heaton got his first basket on a baseline jumper.  Bird hit his last field goal to give Indiana State a 71-63 lead.  He had 35 points and was 2 points away from 5th place on the all-time NCAA scoring list.  Aguirre led DePaul back and his turnaround jumper tied the game at 71.  DePaul then took a 73-71 lead on a Garland jumper.  The Sycamores tied it as Bird found Heaton for a layup.  After a Garland free throw, Nicks found Heaton for another layup for a 75-74 lead with 36 seconds left.  DePaul ran the clock down and Aguirre missed a tough turnaround shot over two players off the back of the rim at 5 seconds.  Indiana State got the rebound and Staley was fouled at 1 second.  He missed the first but made the second free throw.  So DePaul got a last chance for a full court pass but Garland’s pass to Watkins was broken up and the dream matchup was on.  Michigan State vs. Indiana State.  Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.

DePaul starters (points scored)

Curtis Watkins (16) – Small Forward

Mark Aguirre (19) – Power Forward

James Mitchem (12) – Center

Clyde Bradshaw (8) – Point Guard

Gary Garland (19) – Shooting Guard

DePaul Coach: Ray Meyer

Indiana State starters (points scored)

Alex Gilbert (12) – Small Forward

Brad Miley (4) – Power Forward

Larry Bird (35) – Center

Steve Reed (6) – Point Guard

Carl Nicks (10) – Shooting Guard

Indiana State bench (points scored)

Bob Heaton (6)

LeRoy Staley (3)

Indiana State Coach: Bill Hodges


Bird goes in for a layup as DePaul players Aguirre (#32) and Watkins (#30 with knee wrap) have their backs turned *photo courtesy of NCAA Photos

March 26, 1979 – National Championship Game: (#1) Indiana State 64, (#2) Michigan State 75

This game is still the most-watched game in college basketball history.  It also kicked off college basketball’s popularity and started how we know March Madness today.  But even today, this game with a 24.1 rating is still the highest rated college basketball game ever.  An estimated 35.1 million viewers tuned in.  In most cases, it would look like a mis-match as Indiana State was from the Missouri Valley Conference and Michigan State was from the Big Ten.  But Indiana State was undefeated and #1 in the nation.

Even with that, Michigan State was favored as they had their all-time leading scorer and rebounder Greg Kelser to go with Magic Johnson.  Indiana State didn’t have much beyond Larry Bird, although Carl Nicks would make a name for himself a bit in this game.  Michigan State used a matchup zone to follow Bird around and get him off his shots.  Bird created the Sycamores first basket as he hit Steve Reed at the top of the key for a 2-0 lead.  After Kelser found Ron Charles for a layup to tie the game, Magic rebounded a Nicks miss.  He then took it coast-to-coast for a banker off the glass as he was undercut by Nicks.  Magic showed his emotion after that make as he slapped fives with all his teammates with emphasis.  Bird then found Alex Gilbert for a short shot and then hit two free throws for a 6-5 Indiana State lead.  These free throws put him #5 on the NCAA all-time scoring list at the time (he’s 13th right now).  A Bird jumper from the corner gave Indiana State its last lead at 8-7.  Kelser hit guard Terry Donnelly in the corner for a jumper.  Then Kelser went baseline and finished against Bird and Michael Brkovich got out on the break for a three-point play and it was 14-8 Spartans.  The teams traded points for the next few minutes.  Kelser hit two free throws, Bird hit a hook from the post, Kelser hit Magic in the post for a layup, Bird tipped in his own miss with the left-hand (where he had a broken thumb), Magic hit a bank shot from the wing, Nicks drove the lane for a three-point play, Charles put back a miss and Bob Heaton hit two free throws for the Sycamores and it was 22-17 Michigan State.

A few possessions later, Bird made a remarkable airborne defensive play (have you ever seen/heard that sentence?).  Magic was trying to hit Kelser with their famed alley-oop but Bird got up in the air and broke up the play.  He also saved the ball to a teammate at half court while falling out of bounds under the basket.  However, Bird came back and air-balled a shot.  It was the story of Bird’s first half as he shot 4-for-13 (and 7-for-21 for the game).  Nicks hit a jumper in the lane to cut it to 23-19.  That was the closest Indiana State got as Michigan State countered with a 7-0 run.  Reserve Jay Vincent, who would end up having a pretty good NBA career, got two field goals and Magic hit a jumper from just inside the free throw line to complete the run.  Indiana State was not helped by the free throw line and during this run, their worst shooter (27 percenter Alex Gilbert) went 0-for-3.  Bird and Nicks hit jumpers to cut it back to 30-23 but then Magic got a layup on a Kelser assist and then Magic hit Kelser with an alley-oop.  The momentum from this oop carried the Spartans to a 37-28 halftime lead.  Bird recalled years later on how fortunate they were to only be down 9 while Magic said the Spartans were disappointed to only be up 9.

The Spartans however increased their lead early in the 2nd half.  Kelser hit a bank shot in the lane and Donnelly hit a corner jumper.  After Charles hit a free throw, Kelser hit a fadeaway jumper from the baseline and the Spartans had their biggest lead at 44-28.  Eventually Nicks and Heaton started to get going with two jumpers each but they were matched by Terry Donnelly who hit four jumpers early in the 2nd half.  However, Kelser charged into Bird and committed his 4th foul.  This and some Michigan State turnovers seemed to change momentum.  Indiana State cut it to 50-39 when Nicks penetrated and hit LeRoy Staley with a layup and a foul.  Staley missed the free throw but Indiana State forced a jump ball on the rebound.  While the Spartans controlled the jump, they couldn’t get a good shot against Indiana State’s scrambling defense and ended up turning the ball over.  Bird hit a shot from the baseline to cut it to 50-41.  Indiana State again though was not helped by free throws as Nicks went 0-for-2 and Bird 1-for-2 in this stretch.  But with the Spartans up 52-42, Nicks stole a pass and hit a jumper.  Then Indiana State’s pressure forced another turnover and Bird hit from the post and it looked like a Sycamores comeback.

However, Steve Reed missed a shot that could have cut it to four and Magic hit a free throw and a short baseline shot and Kelser came back in and had a field goal.  Michigan State maintained a 57-50 lead with less than 6 minutes left.  The Spartans ran 1:00 off the clock (remember this was the pre-shot clock era) before Kelser found Magic cutting in the middle of the lane.  Johnson slammed one down as Heaton, trying to take the charge, was called for an undercut foul.  As was the rules of the time, Magic got a two-shot intentional along with the basket.  The four-point play put Michigan State up 61-50.  Bird came back with a banker from the post and Nicks finally hit two free throws as Michigan State was running some time off.  With 3:43 left and the score still 61-54, Bird stole a pass.  Reed missed a long jumper, Bird got the rebound but arched the ball high off the glass on the put back trying to get it over the Spartan bigs.  Gilbert got the rebound, was fouled, but the 27% shooter missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Nicks then fouled out trying to steal the ball from Brkovich.  Michael missed the front end of a one-and-one but then Bird missed a long jumper.  Indiana State got another chance after a Spartan turnover but Heaton airballed from the corner.  Michigan State then started to hit their free throws, although Brkovich and Donnelly split a pair.  It was only after MSU started hitting free throws that ISU started making field goals to keep the final respectable.  Bird got a technical for knocking the ball away from Magic while he was out-of-bounds trying to inbound the ball.  Magic also capped the game by twice finding Kelser with inbounds passes for breakaway slams, including an over-the-shoulder pass for a Kelser windmill at the buzzer.

Bird was already drafted by Boston in 1978 (he was four years out of high school at that time so he was eligible to be drafted despite the fact that he could come back for one more year at ISU).  The Celtics though had to sign him before the 1979 draft to keep his rights.  Bird leveraged this into the largest rookie deal at the time.  He proved to Boston that he was well worth it.  Magic meanwhile came out after his sophomore year and was the number 1 pick of the Lakers.  The playoff bound Lakers had acquired that pick as compensation for the New Orleans Jazz signing Gail Goodrich in 1976 (for the first 5 years of free agency there was compensation given to the team losing the player).  And since the Jazz finished last in 1979 and there was no lottery (although there was a coin-flip for the top pick, the Lakers beat out the Chicago Bulls who finished last in the West), the Lakers got the top pick and a marketable star for Hollywood.  The fact that Magic and Bird ended up on the two most successful NBA teams to that point helped ‘save’ the league.

Meanwhile, Michigan State wouldn’t make the tournament again until 1985 and wouldn’t make it to the Final Four until 1999.  Indiana State’s next tournament appearance was in 2000 and their only win was in the first round in 2001.

Indiana State starters

Alex Gilbert (4) – Small Forward

Brad Miley (0) – Power Forward

Larry Bird (19) – Center

Steve Reed (8) – Point Guard

Carl Nicks (17) – Shooting Guard

Indiana State bench

Bob Heaton (10)

LeRoy Staley (4)

Rich Nemcek (2)

Indiana State Coach: Bill Hodges

Michigan State starters

Michael Brkovich (5) – Small Forward

Greg Kelser (19) – Power Forward

Ron Charles (7) – Center

Magic Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Terry Donnelly (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan State bench

Jay Vincent (5)

Mike Longaker (0)

Rob Gonzalez (0)

Michigan State Coach: Jud Heathcote

1979-magic-bird bird '79 magic-johnson-dunks-on-bob-heaton-1979-ncaa-championship-game

At top, Magic and Bird in the 1979 NCAA title game.  At middle, Bird had a tough time against the Michigan State double teams.  At bottom, Magic Johnson dunks over Bob Heaton for his four-point play *photos courtesy of pop history dig, Wall Street Journal, and Look for Basketball blog

For 1980, the NCAA tournament expanded to 48 teams.  This started the thought of ‘Cinderella’ teams.  Three teams who probably wouldn’t have made the tournament in previous years made the Final Four.  Since the tournament started seeding in 1979, there was only one year before 2006 in which no #1 seeds made the Final Four.  That year was 1980.

3 of the 4 one seeds ended up losing to the teams who represented that regional in the Final Four.  The only exception was in the Mideast Regional.  #1 seed Kentucky with Kyle Macy and freshman Sam Bowie lost to 4-seeded Duke at Rupp Arena 55-54 in the Regional Semifinals.  Duke with future NBAers from the 1978 National finalist team Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, and Kenny Dennard lost to Purdue in the next round.  Purdue finished 3rd in the Big Ten that season and were a 6 seed.  They were led by big man Joe Barry Carroll, who would be the #1 pick in the 1980 NBA draft.

In the West Regional, the team that was #1 in the polls for the last half of the season and didn’t experience their first loss until February 27 was DePaul.  The Blue Demons had All-American Mark Aguirre and freshman Terry Cummings.  But in their first game of the tournament, DePaul lost to #8 seeded UCLA 77-71.  UCLA was led by senior Kiki Vandeweghe but had 6’6″ sophomore Mike Sanders at center and a freshmen backcourt of Rod Foster and Michael Holton.  The Bruins had finished 4th in the Pac-10 but after defeating DePaul, they upset Ohio State and Clemson to reach the Final Four.

In the East Regional, the number 1 seed from the newly formed Big East was Syracuse.  Syracuse with future NBA players Louis Orr and Danny Schayes were joined by powerhouses Maryland and Georgetown in that regional.  2-seeded Maryland had Albert King and Buck Williams but were knocked out in the Regional Semifinals by 3-seeded Georgetown.  The Hoyas didn’t quite have Patrick Ewing yet but had Sleepy Floyd.  That win over Maryland was supposed to match the Hoyas versus Syracuse for the third time that season in the Regional Finals.  But the Orangemen were taken out by another cinderella, #5-seeded Iowa.  Iowa finished 4th in the Big Ten and were led by Ronnie Lester.  The Hawkeyes came back from an 18-point deficit against Georgetown to defeat the Hoyas 81-80 and make the Final Four.

The only non-surprise entrant to the Final Four came from the Midwest.  2-seeded Louisville featured All-American Darrell Griffith.  The senior Griffith though was joined by a young supporting cast.  The other four starters featured sophomore point guard Jerry Eaves, sophomore forwards Derek Smith and Wiley Brown (who was playing with a prosthetic right thumb), and freshman center Rodney McCray.  Louisville beat #1 seed LSU easily in the Regional Finals, 86-66.

Griffith’s 34 led Louisville past Iowa in the first Semifinal, 80-72.  Lester went out of the game with a knee injury in the 1st half after scoring 10 points.  In the second game, UCLA held off a rally by Purdue 67-62.  So the 1980 National Championship Game featured two young teams led by senior stars Griffith and Vandeweghe.

March 24, 1980 – National Championship Game: (#8)UCLA 54, (#2)Louisville 59

The stage of the National Championship Game seemed to get the best of both teams as each struggled shooting the ball for most of the game.  These struggles included missed layups.  So all this played out to a pretty ugly championship game (but not nearly as ugly as 2011 between UConn and Butler).  But it was still pretty exciting and had some great plays and streaks.

The first basket came on Louisville’s first possession when Griffith found Brown with a blind pass and Wiley hit a jumper from the right elbow.  But it was over 2:00 into that game before the next basket was scored, by Vandeweghe with a jumper from the wing.  Griffith got his first basket on a high-arcing ban shot from the right wing.  Darrell ‘Dr. Dunkenstein’ Griffith was known for his high-arcing jumper as well.  Another Griffith high-arc jumper gave Louisville a four-point lead.  The Cardinals then got out on the break to try and go up by six.  But UCLA reserve freshman Cliff Pruitt (one of the four Bruin freshman getting significant playing time) blocked an Eaves layup.  Foster then pushed the ball up to Vandeweghe who hit a pull-up from the wing.  Then UCLA tied it at 12 on a Foster pull-up jumper.  Griffith responded with a turn-around fade-away jumper from the post.  Then the 4th UCLA freshman with significant playing time for first-year coach Larry Brown got the Bruins going.  Darren Daye hit a driving layup on the break and then he penetrated and found Pruitt for a corner jumper that gave UCLA its first lead of the game at 16-14.

Foster then found Vandeweghe for a jumper and a four-point lead.  They had a chance to go up six a minute later but Griffith blocked Vandeweghe’s layup and McCray scored on an offensive rebound.  The UCLA lead remained at four late in the first half when Griffith cleared out the side and went for one shot.  He hit one from the top of the key to cut the Bruins lead to two and then McCray blocked a jumper at the buzzer and UCLA led 28-26 at the half.  The first half shooting was about as low as the score.  UCLA shot 33% and Louisville 35%.  Louisville coach Denny Crum (who was an alum of UCLA and a former assistant under John Wooden and had lost three previous times in the tournament to UCLA since taking the Louisville job in 1971, including twice in the Final Four) uncharacteristically screamed at his team at halftime for choking.

After two Holton free throws to start the 2nd half, Eaves hit from the wing for his first two points and then Griffith hit two free throws for his 13th point and the game was tied at 30.  After Sanders and Eaves traded field goals, Derek Smith found Wiley Brown inside with an overhead pass and Louisville had its first lead of the 2nd half at 34-32.  Then on a 4-on-2 break, Eaves found Griffith for a finger roll.  But UCLA came back to tie it at 38 on Rod Foster’s driving shot (he committed his 3rd foul on a charge on the play but as with college rules if you release the ball before charging into the defender the basket still counted).  After a Griffith free throw, the lead changed hands seven consecutive times before a Foster pull-up jumper gave UCLA a 48-45 lead.  This was Foster’s 16th and last point.  With 6:20 to go, Foster found Sanders on the break for a reverse layup and the Bruins had a 50-45 lead.  Then in my opinion the best play of the championship game happened.  Brown lobbed a pass to Griffith in the post who was being guarded closely by Darren Daye.  Griffith went up and made a tough catch against Daye in a sea of hands type of catch (in the SI cover at the bottom of the article).  Then just before hitting the ground, Griffith hit the shot while Foster fouled him.  The three-point play cut the lead to two.  Not only was it the best play of the game but perhaps the biggest as well.

But UCLA responded and took a 54-50 lead on a Vandeweghe driving layup.  Kiki then got a steal and had a one-on-one break versus Eaves.  Vandeweghe tried to go up-and-under past Eaves but Jerry cut off his angle and Kiki hit nothing but backboard on the layup and Brown rebounded it.  Griffith then found Eaves open at the left wing against UCLA’s zone.  Eaves made the jumper and then later made a driving layup in the middle of the lane to tie it at 54.  Then Foster’s jumper was in-and-out and Griffith hit a pull-up from the free throw line to put Louisville up for good, 56-54.  After a UCLA turnover, Louisville ran a minute off the clock before Smith was fouled with 52 seconds left.  Derek made both free throws.  After the teams traded turnovers, Vandeweghe was short on a baseline jumper and Louisville rebounded and ran down the clock before McCray was fouled on an attempted dunk.  Rodney made 1-of-2 for the final margin.  Louisville’s 59-54 winning margin (along with UCLA’s 50-45 lead) was the biggest lead by either team in the game.

UCLA starters (points scored)

James Wilkes (2) – Small Forward

Kiki Vandeweghe (14) – Power Forward

Mike Sanders (10) – Center

Michael Holton (4) – Point Guard

Rod Foster (16) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Darren Daye (2)

Cliff Pruitt (6)

Cliff Anderson (0)

Darrell Allums (0)

UCLA Coach: Larry Brown

Louisville starters (points scored)

Derek Smith (9) – Small Forward

Wiley Brown (8) – Power Forward

Rodney McCray (7) – Center

Jerry Eaves (8) – Point Guard

Darrell Griffith (23) – Shooting Guard

Louisville bench (points scored)

Tony Branch (0)

Roger Burkman (0)

Poncho Wright (4)

Louisville Coach: Denny Crum


Photo courtesy of Louisville Sports Scrapbook

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