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This Date in Hoosier History: Indiana Punches Back Against Auburn in 1987 NCAA Second Round

March 14, 1987 — Indianapolis, Ind.

Before a record crowd of more than 34,000 at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Auburn had a plan to take down No. 1 seed Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

And for six minutes, it worked masterfully.

In what was in essence a home game for the Hoosiers, Auburn was the faster, more physical team out of the gate.  The Tigers led 24-10 with 14 minutes remaining in the first half as they crashed the offensive glass and beat IU up and down the floor.

Indiana head coach Bob Knight, who would remark after the game that he thought it might take 200 points to win the game based on the way Auburn started, had to call a timeout.

With big bruisers in the paint and quick athletic guards, Auburn seemed intent on more than just physical dominance.  The Tigers appeared to be trying to intimidate IU.  There were several altercations during the game, as Auburn tried to push the Hoosiers around.

IU sophomore Ricky Calloway hit some early shots to help keep IU afloat, but it was going to take a complete reset out of the timeout to change the course of this game.

Enter Indiana’s emotional leader, junior center Dean Garrett.

With Auburn throwing numerous gadget defenses at IU aimed at slowing down All-American guard Steve Alford, Knight appeared to come out of the timeout intent on feeding Garrett the ball in one-on-one matchups in the post.

Garrett immediately scored on an Auburn goaltend, and then the next time down the floor the 6-foot-10 Garrett drew a hard foul and responded with an emotional fist pump near the face of Tiger forward Chris Morris.

Seemingly in that moment, the entire complexion of the game changed.  Garrett’s fist pump sent a message that energized the partisan crowd and staggered the bully.

It also got the attention of the officials, who seemed to recognize that the game might get out of control as Morris tried to come after Garrett.

The Tigers quickly started to accumulate fouls, many of them as they tried to crash the offensive glass.  The Hoosiers would shoot 18 free throws before the first half buzzer, and multiple Auburn starters sat on the bench in foul trouble.

Meanwhile, Indiana got red hot from the field.  Shooting 67 percent before the break, IU closed the half on a 43-24 run that was fueled by the emergence of Alford.

It took more than ten minutes for the senior guard to make a shot during the game, but he would end up with 31 points as Alford knocked down 7-of-11 bombs from three-point range.

Auburn managed to keep things close behind 21 first half points from forward Mike White, but the Hoosiers went into the half up 53-48 and were now clearly in control.

While many think of Knight’s offense as a methodical half court motion system, what the Hoosiers did in the second half was anything but that.

In many ways, the Indiana attack in this contest resembled the modern game — get the ball into the hands of lightning quick point guard Keith Smart, and go.

After Garrett drew an early fourth foul in the second half, Knight recognized that his best offense was going to be getting open looks before the Auburn defense could get set.

Smart pushed the ball into the lane and then looked for Alford trailing for transition three-pointers.  The 6-foot-1 junior college transfer would make one of the most iconic shots in the history of college basketball a couple weeks later, but on this day Smart put his name in the IU record books.

Smart set the IU single game record with 15 assists, and was just one rebound short of the program’s first triple double in 16 seasons.

Perhaps staggered by Indiana’s ability to match their speed, or maybe exhausted, Auburn fell asleep on defense and left Alford wide open for a three-pointer that gave the Hoosiers a 63-53 lead, and forced Tiger head coach Sonny Smith to call a timeout three minutes into the second half.

While his team kept fighting, Smith didn’t have any answers.  And his team kept losing Alford.

The Tigers would never get closer than seven points as they couldn’t sustain the pace that they tried to establish at the outset.

Senior forward Daryl Thomas was benched early in the game as he struggled to match Auburn’s speed and physical play, but he made several timely buckets down the stretch to help IU maintain the margin.

Indiana would pull away, winning 107-90.  The IU point total was the highest mark reached by the Hoosiers in four years, and the Hoosiers’ ability to play fast likely helped to shape the game plan against No. 1 UNLV in the Final Four two weeks later.

Indiana’s starting five of Alford, Smart, Thomas, Garrett and Calloway scored 105 of the Hoosiers’ 107 points, with all five over 18 for the game.  IU shot 60.3 percent from the field for the contest.

And while Auburn established their physicality on the boards early, it was Indiana that would end up with a 44-33 rebounding margin when the dust settled.  Calloway led IU with 13 rebounds, while Smart added 9 and Thomas had 8.

Alford became the Big Ten’s second all-time leading scorer during the game, passing Purdue legend Rick Mount.

With the win, IU advanced to the Sweet 16 in Cincinnati where they would face a Duke team led by former Knight player and emerging coaching star Mike Krzyzewski.

The 1987 Hoosiers would of course go on to win the 1987 National Championship, and it was this second round test against Auburn that helped harden them for several more major challenges along the way.

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