March 29, 1976, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
There were plenty of challenges and close calls along the way to Indiana’s perfect 32-0 1976 season.
But the Hoosiers were never tested more than they were two minutes into the 1976 national championship game.
The 1974-75 IU team was widely viewed as a more complete squad than the 1975-76 group with senior leaders Steve Green and John Laskowski. But a late season injury to star forward Scott May ultimately contributed greatly to the Hoosiers (31-1) coming up short in the NCAA Tournament that year.
A year later Indiana’s starting guard and best defender Bobby Wilkerson took an elbow to his head and left the 1976 national championship game with less than three minutes off the first half clock.
The crowd of 17,540 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia watched for nearly ten minutes as the 6-foot-7 and unconscious Wilkerson was attended to and then carried off the floor.
After watching May go down a year earlier, a feeling of “here we go again” could have shaken the confidence of Indiana’s undefeated crew.
Instead, seeing their teammate go down seemed to strengthen the Hoosiers’ resolve.
“We knew then we just had to go at it a little tougher with Bobby out. And we did,” point guard Quinn Buckner said after the game.
“There was no panic after Bobby left. We’ve been behind before. We’re used to it,” May added.
Indiana had played Michigan twice earlier in the season. IU won those games of course, but they were close including an overtime contest in Bloomington. Head coach Bob Knight would refer to Michigan as the best team the Hoosiers faced all season.
With Wilkerson down the Wolverines were no doubt confident. Behind lightning quick point guard Rickey Green Michigan raced out to a 35-29 halftime lead.
Knight said very little at halftime.
But he said everything that needed to be said.
“If you guys want to be champions and make history, you got 20 minutes to prove it.” Then he walked out according to May.
That was it. The players got the message.
IU put together one of its most dominant performances of the season, outscoring Michigan 57-33 with a second half that was as perfect as the season itself.
With Indiana comfortably in the lead in the waning minutes, Knight was able to sub out his stars as the Hoosiers began to celebrate on the bench.
Starters May, Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner, and Tom Abernathy had done it. A perfect 32-0 season. National champions.
Wilkerson was at the hospital with a mild concussion by the team his teammates were celebrating the championship.
May led IU with 26 points and added 8 rebounds. Benson had 25 points and a team leading 9 rebounds. Buckner had 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
The 1976 Hoosiers were voted in 2013 as the best-ever by NCAA.com, the United States Basketball Writers Association and sports information directors.
Video credit – NCAA
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- March 18: Indiana vs. Kansas (1953)
- March 19: Indiana vs. Kentucky (2016)
- March 20: Indiana vs. Duke (1987)
- March 21: Indiana vs. Duke (2002)
- March 21: Indiana vs. Purdue (1979)
- March 21: Indiana vs. LSU (1992)
- March 22: Indiana vs. North Carolina (1984)
- March 22: Indiana vs. LSU (1987)
- March 23: Indiana vs. Kent State (2002)
- March 24: Indiana vs. Temple (2013)
- March 25: Indiana vs. Louisville (1993)
- March 26: Indiana vs. Florida State (1992)
- March 27: Indiana vs. UCLA (1976)
- March 28: Indiana vs. UNLV (1987)
- March 28: Indiana vs. LSU (1981)
- March 28: Indiana vs. UCLA (1992)
- March 29: Indiana vs. Michigan (1976)
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- March 30: Indiana vs. Syracuse (1987)
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