Tolbert Big Ten champion

Tolbert Big Ten champion

By Bob Hammel, Monday Herald-Telephone

March 9, 1981

They’ll never know from the record book that Indiana barely made it home as Big Ten basketball champions in 1981.

Senior Ray Tolbert led the way as the Hoosiers went into the record book as the best-shooting team and best at hampering its opponents’ shooting in the “Bob Knight Era” – the 10-year period in which the Hoosier coach’s defensive demands altered the priorities in the entire league.

Tolbert led Big Ten shooters with a .626 mark that set an Indiana record. His predecessor as Indiana’s four-year center, all-American Kent Benson, set the previous IU record for Big Ten play when he was the last Hoosier to lead the league – with .606 in 1976.

Tolbert outshot Minnesota’s Mark Hall (.613) and Randy Breuer (.569) in leading the league and becoming his coach’s candidate for Big Ten Most Valuable Player Award that IU’s Mike Woodson won last year.

“I think there was no question he was the best center in the league this year,” Knight said. “He just did so many things for us, on defense and offense. I think he was the most valuable player in the league.”

The Hoosiers were the first team to score a shooting triple crown since the NCAA began ranking defenses on field-goal percentage allowed.

Indiana has been no worse than second in each of the seven years that has been done, but the Hoosiers’ .423 percentage for opponents this year is the lowest any Big Ten team has allowed during that time. The previous low was .427 by Illinois in 1979.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s own .541 league shooting average is the league’s best in 11 years and second-best ever. The Ohio State team of 1970, which still ranks as the only team ever to lead the nation in both field-goal shooting and free-throw shooting, holds the league record for a season at .547.

Indiana also led the conference in free-throw shooting at .770, the second-best figure ever for IU (the VanArsdale-McGlocklin team of 1965 shot .781) and the first time the Hoosiers have led the league in that category since Knight’s first Indiana team in 1972.

It also was the first team in 12 years a team led the league in both field-goal and free-throw percentages and only the fourth time in 35 years. No Indiana team had done it.

Ironically Tolbert’s league-leading figure wasn’t the best among Hoosier starters. Landon Turner, who came on to start the last five games, hit 32 of 52 shots (.692) in helping the Hoosiers’ stretch drive and finished with a league percentage of .639. However, both he and team-mate Randy Wittman (.562) made fewer than the minimum number of field goals needed to qualify for inclusion in the shooters’ leader list. Both the NCAA and the Big Ten set the qualifying minimum at 5 field goals a game, or 90 for the league season. Wittman was 77-for-137 and Turner 53-for-83.

The ’81 Hoosiers shot .500 or better in 13 of their 18 league games, including the last six and 10 of their last 11.

They went into the record books with the one-game performances that, on the all-time Big Ten play, rank first (.667 against Wisconsin), third (.639 against Northwestern), forth (.634 against Minnesota) and sixth (.632 in the championship-clinching game at Michigan State Saturday night). The only marks that squeeze in from all previous Indiana teams were the .650 mark of the 1978 Hoosiers in beating Purdue and the .633 Indiana shot at Ohio State in 1959 – the 122-92 blowout that stood IU’s record in any game for 17 years and in Big Ten play for 19.

The previous high percentage for a Big Ten season for an IU team was .513, managed by both Hoosier teams that went unbeaten in 1975 and ’76.

Indiana had one other game over .600 this year (.606 at Kansas State). The five .600 games this year compare with only 16 by all previous Hoosier teams.

Ted Kitchel, whose 18-for-18 day set IU and Big Ten records , shot .843 in league play to lead Hoosiers who met that league’s qualifying standard (21/2 a game). The five late-season starters finished with high league marks – Turner .875, Isiah Thomas .786, Tolbert .729 and Wittman .722.