Hoosiers drown out Illini refrain

Hoosiers drown out Illini refrain

By Bob Hammel, The Herald-Telephone

March 6, 1981

From the March 6, 1981 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A folk singer from a Champaign radio station strummed a guitar and led an overflow Assembly Hall crowd in singing a lively tune at halftime Thursday night.

The refrain, the one that brought in the crowd for some music-in-the-round ran:

“The ’80s belong to Illini…”

The night game, however, was played in the 60s. And that meant it belonged to Indiana.

“They controlled the tempo,” senior forward Eddie Johnson of Illinois said after the 69-66 victory that boosted IU into a share of the Big Ten lead and formally eliminated the Illini from this year’s championship race.

“They cut off our running game, and we thought we had to run against them to win.

“The fast break is our game. The first half, we got them going for just a little while, but then they controlled the tempo again.

“Even in the second half when we were up by four (49-45 with 101/2 minutes left), they just kept working the ball. They didn’t take a bad shot.”

Perhaps that was the game’s pivotal period – the stretch in which the Hoosiers refused to drop back and, once even traded crucial shots with the revved-up Illini.

Or maybe it was the last six minutes, when Indiana’s sharp passing and quick cuts from a spread offense picked apart Illinois’ man-to-man defense. That was the phrase that had second-guessers questioning Illini couch Lou Henson’s decision to go with the man-to-man, rather than a zone.

Ironically, it was fear of the Hoosiers’ long-range accuracy that led to the choice of Illini defenses, and Henson didn’t second-guess himself for it.

“Indiana might be the best outside-shooting team in the country,” he said.

“We felt we had to alternate defenses.

“When they got ahead at the end, they had the opportunity to spread it out and make us come after them. If we had been up 3 points and had the ball in that stretch, we would have done the same thing.”

Illini senior Mark Smith called the spread “a good move on coach (Bob) Knight’s part. When they went to the wide open offense, we couldn’t put any pressure on.”

Smith will be taking his first trip to the NCAA tournament. That much seems sure, with third place in the Big Ten assured now for the Illini and a 20-7 finish likely, if they can get by Northwestern Saturday at Champaign.

However, Smith spoke more readily of Indiana’s tournament chances, though lots of teams have better records than the Hoosiers’ 20-9.

“First of all, you have to figure who they lost to,” Smith said. “They lost to some really good teams early in the year (Kentucky, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson, and Pan-American) and in the conference, they lost to the best teams (Iowa twice, Purdue and Michigan once each).

“I think they’ll do really well. They’ll be tough to beat.

“They play so intent, and they help so much on defense. I’ve never seen a team so unselfish. There are just no selfish players on the team.

“And you rarely will see teams getting layups on them , the way they help out on defense.”

It was a surprise ending to a festive day in Champaign-Urbana. Champaign News-Gazette sports writer Loren Tate called it the biggest March game at Illinois since the early ’60s. Radio stations played the folk singer’s tune throughout the day, interspersed with ribald doggerel called in by listeners forecasting a dire evening for IU coach Bob Knight and his Hoosiers. The mood threatened to get ugly, but the atmosphere at the game never did. Knight had an obscenity or two shouted at him and some pejorative signs and T-shirts flashed his way, but the crowd in general was lively and enthusiastic, challenging its team to show its new Big Ten standing by felling the league’s giant of the ’70s, Indiana.

The ’80s, whatever the tunesmith says, remain up for grabs. And Indiana – league champion in ’80 and a co-leader into the final day of ’81 – is still alive and well and in there grabbing.

“The first half, we got kind of caught up in crowd,” IU guard Randy Wittman said.

“We were coming down, making one pass and putting a shot up.”

The Hoosiers lost that half, 32-28.

“The second half, we were much more patient,” Wittman said. “We worked the ball around three or four or five times and got good shots.”

Henson saw things from a slightly different view.

“The first half, I thought we played pretty good defense,” he said. “And I thought we did in the second half, too, until we had to go out and get the basketball there at the end. Then we let them get behind us. We did a very poor job. Our defense broke down.

“I thought it was a very good game where whoever gets a break wins it, and we didn’t get the break.”

Knight called it “just an awfully good college basketball game” and noted:

“There weren’t a hell of a lot of turnovers either way (IU officially was charged with 9, Illinois 8), and the kids on both teams made free throws. Illinois hit some in the middle of the second half (7-of-8 during a stretch when the lead was going back and forth) and almost put us out of the game, and our kids hit them at the end (10 in a row, 17-for-18 for the game).

“It was poetic justice that we would win a game there. We lost one at Purdue at the foul line.

“We never really had a chance to run away with the game. Illinois did maybe twice in the first half. There was a good sequence of plays for us at the end of the half, and we were a little lucky.

“Illinois is very impressive to me simply because it is a team that, through the efforts of the players and coaches , has come along from year to year and matured very well. They lose some players this year, but they’re going to be good again next year because their young players have had the benefit of playing with the older ones. And that maturing process is something that takes a while to develop.”

Knight declined to speculate on the Hoosiers’ NCAA future, nor on the likelihood of IU’s being assigned to the 12-team field that will supply the teams for the Mideast Regional at IU’s Assembly Hall March 20 and 22.

“I understand it has been the policy to do that (assign tournament hosts to their bracketing),” Knight said.

“But what difference does it make? You’ve got to play, anyway.”

Speculation stops on Sunday, when the NCAA hands out its 48 invitations and fills in all blanks on the tournament schedule.

Bill Jauss of the Chicago Tribune, operating with information from an unidentified NCAA source, said Thursday DePaul, Kentucky and Indiana likely will wind up in the Mideast field, with DePaul the top seed. That was when Iowa was the Big Ten’s champion-apparent, and Jauss had the Hawkeyes returning to the East Regional, where Virginia will be the No. 1, with Notre Dame and Illinois other assignees, in the Midwest, and Oregon State and UCLA heading West Regional entries.

But there still are a lot of games to play before the NCAA’s computer stops digesting data and starts spewing out findings Sunday.

There’s a matter of a Big Ten championship to settle. Those things never seem settled until the final day.