We’re No. 1!

We’re No. 1!

Hoosiers take NCAA title

by Bob Hammel, H-T Sports Editor

March 30, 1976

From the March 30, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

PHILADELPHIA – At last, at long last, Indiana got its shot at the national collegiate basketball championship Monday night and won it with class that guaranteed the 1975-76 Hoosiers ranking with the all-time greats.

The last of the disbelievers, fiery, feisty and fleet Michigan, fell by an 86-68 score in the 38th NCAA tournament’s championship game.

What isn’t told by that final game margin – fifth-biggest to tourney history – is that at halftime, the dancing in the streets was going on in Ann Arbor, not Bloomington.

Indiana, rocked by the loss of starting guard Bob Wilkerson to a head injury in the third minute of the game, trailed at halftime, 35-29.

Scott May’s jump shot pulled the Hoosiers even at 39-39 with 15:55 to go, and it was still tied, 51-51, after Michigan freshman Phil Hubbard’s basket with 10:15 left.

The last 10 minutes made the Hoosiers champions – for the third time in Indiana history (joining IU’s 1940 and ’53 titlists of the late Branch McCracken) and only the seventh time in NCAA history that a team made it all the way unbeaten. Indiana’s 32-0 record matches the best ever by North Carolina’s 1957 champions.

May, college basketball’s player of the year, broke the tie with a jump shot at 9:58, and the sequence that happened in the next minute helped sap Michigan’s last will.

Quinn Buckner (21) stops an easy Wolverine basket during the NCAA championship game, March 29, 1976.

Freshman Rich Valavicius, whose high school tournament experience never got beyond the regional level, was on the floor only 14 seconds in his first college championship game when he drilled a jump shot from the top of the four circle for Hoosier breathing room, 55-51.

Michigan tried to counter, sub Dave Baxter putting up a shot from the right side and freshman Phil Hubbard pulling the rebound down on the left side and putting a shot back up.

Kent Benson, a raging boss of the backboards the last 20 minutes, turned the shot back with a clout that sent it high in the air and deep on the court, where another of the late-game Hoosier standouts, sophomore guard Jim Wisman, fielded it.

Seconds later, Benson drew the fourth foul on Hubbard, and in another minute, Hubbard was gone on fouls – the 10th time he fouled out of a game this year and the third straight time in games with Indiana.

Guard Steve Grote kept Michigan close for a while after Hubbard’s departure. The Wolverines trailed only 63-59 when May snapped up a loose ball under the Hoosier basket and let it slip in the right direction, the ball looping high and almost straight up, coming down in the basket.

Before Michigan could recover, Tom Abernethy – freshened by Valavicius’ three-minute relief stint – intercepted a Grote pass and Quinn Buckner sank two free throws.

Then came Abernethy, whose play on a bruised leg won him the greatest recognition of his Hoosier career – election to five-man all-tourney team. Abernethy checked out to the same reception as Buckner, while time stood still with May at the free throw line.

Kent Benson and Scott May celebrate IU’s victory over Michigan for the NCAA championship, March 29, 1976.

After he hit both free throws to round out a 26-point night, May came out … then Benson – named the tourney’s outstanding player after a 25-point, 9-rebound final game.

The last senior, Jim Crews, came out after hitting two free throws at 0:12. Mission accomplished.

“It’s been kind of a two-year quest for us,” Knight said.

“These kids are very, very deserving. I know better than anybody how hard and how long they have worked for this.”

Things looked shaky during the first half, when the dominant characteristic of the game was Michigan’s zeal. “They outhustled us,” May said frankly.

Wilkerson went out when he got in front of Michigan’s Britt on a breakaway lay-up by Britt, who was looking away from Wilkerson when he came down after his shot – Britt’s elbow catching Wilkerson in the head and knocking him out.

The game was held up for about eight minutes while treatment was given Wilkerson, who left the floor on a stretcher … his game, season and Hoosier career obviously ended.

Wayne Radford was Knight’s first choice to replace Wilkerson – “because I thought Michigan might be doing a lot of zoning and Radford’s shooting might help us,” Knight said.

The Hoosiers fell back, 18-10, before Knight took a time out at 11:09 of the half, Crews replacing Radford. The next five times Indiana encountered the zone, the Hoosiers scored to scoot ahead, 23-20.

It was the end of Orr’s defensive switching system – man-to-man after a Wolverine score zone after failure to score. He junked the zone and went the rest of the way man-to-man, benefiting the rest of the half from more aggressive defense but faltering when fouls started to accumulate and when Benson, the object of the zone proved too much for Hubbard to handle by himself.

Scott May cuts down the nets after IU’s victory over Michigan for the NCAA championship, March 29, 1976.

Just as vital were three fouls May drew on his nemesis, the super-sticky Britt, in the first four minutes of the second half – forcing him out of the game at that point with four fouls.

“We played a very good first half (Michigan shot .615),” Wolverine coach Johnny Orr said, “but when we got into foul trouble, we couldn’t keep up.”

It was Indiana’s third; and most convincing victory of the year over the Wolverines, who finished No. 9 in the polls and 25-7 in the record book.

Besides the 51 points from Benson ad May, Indiana got 16 (plus 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals) from Buckner and 11 points from Abernethy. Four Wolverines also scored in double figures, Ricky Green high with 18.

The unprecedented final-game match-up of two members of the same conference saw Indiana’s come out with an edge in every statistic. In the pressure of the championship game, the Hoosiers had their best tournament mark on turnovers, committing only 13 for the game and just one in the first 16 minutes of the second half. Michigan had 19 turnovers and the Wolverines also were outshot (.525 to .474) and outrebounded, 36-34.

Indiana became the Big Ten’s first NCAA champion since Ohio State’s 1960 team won. Two sophomore members of the Buckeye team were around Monday night – Knight and Boston Celtics great John Havlicek, who spoke to the Hoosiers before the game. Not even those Buckeye teams of 1960, ’61 and’62 made it all the way through unbeaten. The only other perfect-record champs were UCLA four times (1964, ’68, ’72 and ’73), San Francisco in Bill Russell’s senior year (1956) and the ’57 Carolina team.

MICHIGAN 68 M FG FT R A PF TPRobinson, f 38 4-8 0-1 6 2 5 8Britt, f 31 5-6 1-1 3 2 5 11Hubbard, c 31 4-8 2-2 11 0 5 10Green, g 39 7-16 4-5 6 2 3 18Grote, g 35 4-9 4-6 1 3 4 12Bergen 5 0-1 0-0 0 0 1 0Staton 9 2-5 3-4 2 3 0 7Baxter 6 0-2 0-0 0 0 2 0Thompson 2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0Hardy 4 1-2 0-0 2 0 0 2Team 3Totals 27-57 14-19 34 12 25 68

INDIANA 86 M FG FT R A PF TPMay, f 39 10-17 6-6 8 2 4 26Abernethy, f 34 4-8 3-3 4 1 2 11Benson, c 39 11-20 3-5 9 2 3 25Buckner, g 39 5-10 6-9 8 4 4 16Wilkerson, g 3 0-1 0-0 0 0 1 0Radford 7 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 0Crews 12 0-1 2-2 1 4 1 2Wisman 21 0-1 2-3 1 6 4 2Valavicius 4 1-1 0-0 0 0 0 2Haymore 1 1-1 0-0 0 0 0 2Bender 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0Team 3Totals 32-61 22-28 36 19 19 86

SCORE BY HALVES:Indiana 29-57 86Michigan 35-33 68

Errors: Indiana 13, Michigan 19Blocked shots: Indiana 2 (Benson, Buckner); Michigan 3 (Hardy 3, Hubbard).Steals: Indiana 10 (Buckner 5, May 2, Abernethy, Benson, Valavicius); Michigan 9 (Grote 3, Staton 2, Britt, Green, Robinson, Staten).

SHOOTING FG Pct. FT Pct.Indiana 32-61 .525 22-28 .786Michigan 37-67 .674 14-19 .737

Officials: Irv Brown and Bob WortmanAttendance: 17,540 (capacity)