There is no other day on the calendar that is more sacred to the Indiana University men’s basketball program than March 30th. On this date Indiana won 3 of its 5 national titles and a Final Four game.
Take a look back at those memorable moments along with some interesting story lines from the games:
MARCH 30, 1940 – INDIANA WINS ITS FIRST NATIONAL TITLE
It was a night where legends were remembered, legends were made, and traditions began.
The founder of the game, James Naismith died during the start of the 1939-40 season. Before IU and Kansas played in the title game on this night there was a ceremony that paid tribute to Naismith. Although he’d invented the sport in Springfield, Massachussetts in 1891, James Naismith had later claimed, “Basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.”
In 1898 Naismith was hired by Kansas to coach basketball and teach physical education. One of his students was Phog Allen, who coached the Kansas basketball team from 1919 to 1956. The Hoosiers knocked out Springfield on their way to the title game, which coincidentally was the very school where Naismith had invented the game. Indiana, Kansas and Naismith seemed intertwined, and perhaps destined to play this game.
This night was all about the Hoosiers from Indiana and their fast paced brand of basketball. The Hoosiers surprised the Jayhawks with their accurate shooting and hurried style. Branch McCracken and the Hurryin’ Hoosiers ran away with a 60-42 victory, despite a heavily pro-Kansas crowd at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium.
Marvin Huffman and Jay McCreary led the Hoosiers with 12 points each. Huffman won the Most Outstanding Player award and was an All-American.
MARCH 30, 1981 – INDIANA WINS ITS FOURTH NATIONAL TITLE
It was the team that looked like it couldn’t get there and the game that looked like it wouldn’t happen.
Despite a preseason top 5 ranking, the Hoosiers finished their pre-conference schedule with a 7-5 record including a loss to Texas Rio Grande Valley in late December that knocked them completely out of the national rankings. Indiana would rally to win 11 of their last 13 Big Ten games to finish 14-4 in conference play and win the Big Ten outright.
In late February something clicked with this team and they went from good to dominant. The Hoosiers starting beating nearly everyone they played by double figures. That carried all the way through to the national title game against North Carolina. IU won their four NCAA tournament games leading up to the championship by an average margin of 25 points.
Tragedy struck the country on the day of the game, and it wasn’t clear if it would even be played. President Ronald Reagan was shot outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel. Bob Knight, North Carolina coach Dean Smith, and an NCAA official met inside the Spectrum in Philadelphia to discuss whether or not to play the game. Smith suggested that the teams be declared co-champions. Ultimately the NCAA tournament committee decided less than an hour before the scheduled tip-off. The game would go on.
After a tight first half, the Hoosiers would pull away for the 63-50 victory. Isiah Thomas led the way for IU with 23 points, 5 assists and 4 steals. Randy Wittman, Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner all had big games as well.
MARCH 30, 1987 – INDIANA WINS ITS FIFTH NATIONAL TITLE
The 1986-87 Hoosiers were probably IU’s least talented national championship team, but led by unrelenting senior leader Steve Alford and a strong supporting cast, the Hoosiers found a way to earn the school’s fifth title.
The outcome would have almost certainly been different if Knight had continued his stance against recruiting junior college players.
Alford led Indiana with 23 points, including seven three-pointers in the championship game, but he wasn’t the headliner on this night.
Junior college transfer Keith Smart had 21 points for the game, including 17 in the second half. Of course none were bigger than his 18-foot baseline jumper that gave IU the 74-73 lead with four seconds remaining.
The late Daryl Thomas, who passed in March of 2018, had 20 points, 7 rebounds and the game winning assist.
Dean Garrett, another junior college transfer, had a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
MARCH 30, 2002 – INDIANA DEFEATS OKLAHOMA AND ADVANCES TO THE NATIONAL TITLE GAME
Similar to the 1981 team, the 2002 Indiana Hoosiers didn’t have the early look of a nationally elite team. IU finished the pre-conference schedule at 7-5. It lost 3 of its last 4 games in December including a Hoosier Classic loss to Butler.
It was a season that would bridge three post Bob Knight Indiana coaches. With his successor Mike Davis at the helm, IU would lose to Tom Crean’s Marquette squad in November, and they would ultimately meet Kelvin Sampson in March.
The Hoosiers would find their identity in the Big Ten — and that identity was defense. Indiana’s all-time steals leader Dane Fife would earn the Big Ten defensive player of the year award, and he had plenty of help behind him. The Hoosiers finished tied for first place in the Big Ten at 11-5.
Indiana knocked out the No. 1 team in the country that year, the Duke Blue Devils, to reach the Elite Eight round. At that point IU started to look like a team of destiny.
After knocking out Kent State in the Elite Eight, IU would go on to face Sampson and the Oklahoma Sooners in the national semifinals.
True to their defensive identity, Indiana held Oklahoma to only 36% shooting from the field, and the Sooners had just six assists for the game. IU, on the other hand, shot 52% from the field, had 19 assists and out-rebounded Oklahoma 31-21.
The game was tight throughout but Indiana pulled away late, 73-64. In perhaps the most memorable game of his career, Jeff Newton led the Hoosiers with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks. Four other Hoosiers scored eight or more points.
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Main photo – IU Archives