Saturday Assembly Hall sendoff for Hoosier seniors

by Bob Hammel, H-T Sports Editor

March 5, 1976

Every time I step on that court and those people go wild, it just fires me up inside and I’m ready to go. I don’t even need a warm-up. Let’s just play ball. Ever since my first time even watching them, my freshman year when I was sitting out – watching those people go crazy … that’s what it’s all about. That’s what I love. There’s no basketball fans like Indiana fans. – Scott May

From the March 5, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

Scott May steps onto Assembly Hall’s court for the last time Saturday afternoon.

So does Quinn Buckner.

And Bob Wilkerson.

And Tom Abernethy.

And Jim Crews.

A most remarkable senior class gets its last hurrahs from the 17,000 “crazies” at the home arena where they have bedazzled and befuddled and bewitched and beguiled foe and friend hundreds of times in their virtually all-winning career.

The regionally televised game (3:08 p.m., Ch. 6) brims with extras, because it also is the last coaching appearance of an all-time Big Ten great – Fred Taylor of Ohio State.

And it’s the end of another regular-season joyride for the Hoosiers, who – with a victory over the Buckeyes – would become the first team ever to go through two straight Big Ten seasons unbeaten.

They’ve already been in the middle of enough remarkable achievements to guarantee an immortality conferred by the Big Ten about once a generation. The Illinois Whiz Kids of the 1940s … the Ohio State superpower of the ’60s … it’s special ranking, but the Hoosiers of the ’70s have earned it with a span of excellence that coincides with the arrival of the current Hoosier seniors on campus.

Since Hoosier coach Bob Knight brought them together, polished them individually and collectively and sicced them on the world, the Hoosiers have won four straight Big Ten championships – three of them clear-cut, the fourth reduced to a share by the last Big-Ten game these players have lost: at Ohio State in March, 1974.

They have won 36 Big Ten games in a row since then. The longest previous string in the ultra-competitive league was 27, by Taylor’s Ohio State teams from 1960-62.

They have won 33 straight home games. Taylor’s Bucks still are ahead of that; they won 50 in a row at St. John Arena.

In putting together a 34-game winning streak last year (counting three games at the tail of the previous season), Indiana beat Ohio State’s all-time Big Ten record of 31. The current Hoosiers already are in fifth place on the all-time chart with their new string, 26 in a row – all this season.

It means 60 victories in the last 61 games; 47 Big Ten wins in the last 48 games. It’s an awesome pattern of success that is a bit benumbing as it is happening but ought to look incredible in a decade or so when some other super-group comes along to challenge.

The distinguishing characteristic of the current Hoosiers – as with Taylor’s powerful Buckeye teams and the “Whiz Kids” – is a group identity. No that’s why the exit of the current seniors is sure to be a hallowed moment at The Hall Saturday, because their impact was collective.

They will go into NCAA play next week as perhaps one of college basketball’s most experienced teams ever. The five seniors will have credit for having played in 495 games – an average of 99 apiece.

Buckner, Abernethy and Crews, members of all four Big Ten champions, have played in more than 100 games each – and Indiana has won 102 times in their four seasons.

May and Wilkerson have been on three championship teams that have gone 80-6, and each has played in all of those victories … as has junior center Kent Benson, with Knight the sustaining links between the massive victory total and the future once the seniors have wound things up.

The Hoosiers are capping things at Assembly Hall against a team that has been the most troublesome of all for them in past play.

Besides the jolting late-season defeat in 1974, Ohio State also has dealt out crucial beatings in 1972 and 1973, and the Buckeyes almost saved the Big Ten record for their predecessors by clipping the Hoosier winning steak in the league opener this year. That one went to the final second – literally, a floor-length pass aimed at getting a tying shot falling out of bounds at 0:01 – before Indiana escaped, outplayed but a winner, 66-64.

Times have been tough for the Bucks since then. They have tumbled into the Big Ten basement, losing their last nine games in a row as injuries and illness stripped them of their two best players – center Craig Taylor, the team captain, and junior guard Larry Bolden.

Bolden may play Saturday; Taylor won’t. The Buckeye center is hospitalized with a viral condition.

But emotion is guaranteed in Taylor’s farewell. It’ll be everywhere on this day. The best basketball isn’t always played under those circumstances, but a gameful of it from both sides would be the only appropriate exit for those Hoosier seniors and for Taylor.