What say we make a little movie? It'll be about a basketball team from basketball-crazed Indiana. This team will have a fiery, foul-mouthed, cuss of a coach who berates officials and degrades the press.
This team will win a big game by one point. In the final seconds, of course, on a shot by a kid playing in front of his hometown fans. The victory gives this team a chance to play for the national championship in a 63,000-seat Superdome. Hoosiers everywhere rejoice. Moviegoers will eat this stuff up.
Indiana, on the brink of becoming another top-seeded team sent home before its time in the NCAA tournament, rallied from nine points behind in the final five minutes to beat Louisiana State, 77-76, and win the championship of the NCAA Midwest Regional in front of 16,817 spectators at Riverfront Coliseum.
Cincinnati's own Rick Calloway, who, early in the second half, had limped off the court with an apparently reinjured right knee, sneaked in unnoticed for a rebound and layup with six seconds to play to give Indiana the win and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.
Calloway's follow shot gave the Hoosiers their first lead since the 47-46 advantage they had to start the second half. It also brought an end to the Sunday sermon of LSU Coach Dale Brown, who had hoped to coax one more miracle out of his team and take it home to Baton Rouge with an appointment in New Orleans. Instead, it's the Hoosiers who will bring the Knight life with them to Bourbon Street.
It was an eventful finish for Calloway, who went to Indiana from Withrow High School in Cincinnati. With 14:31 to play, he was flat on his back near the LSU free-throw line, clutching the heavy brace on his right knee. He was helped to his feet, and eventually taken to the Indiana dressing room.
"Somebody fell on it. . . . I don't know who it was," he said. "It hurt really bad at first, but I went back (in the tunnel) and did some sprints, and it was OK."
Calloway returned to the game with 12:57 left. With 4:38 remaining, he drove the baseline and went up for a one-handed slam that would have cut LSU's lead to seven points. The ball hit the heal of the rim and kicked out of bounds in front of the Indiana bench. Calloway would not come as close to another scoring opportunity until the winning basket.
And that came only after teammate Daryl Thomas bounced the ball off the backboard on an off-balance 12-footer in the lane. The ball carommed off the glass into the waiting hands of Calloway, who the supposedly brutish Tigers had forgotten to get physical with.
"It was Calloway?" LSU center Nikita Wilson would ask later. "I thought it was (guard Keith) Smart. Well, he just snuck in, then. We didn't box him out."
Said Calloway: "I just kept my eye on the ball. When the shot went up, there was nobody in my way. I just grabbed it and put it back on the glass."
The Tigers called a timeout to set up one last attempted miracle, but Wilson's turnaround jumper from near the foul line kicked off the rim. Cue the Hoosiers and start the celebration scene.
Guard Steve Alford led five Indiana players in double figures with 20 points and center Dean Garrett, one of the reasons Knight has become more open-minded about recruiting junior college transfers, had 17 points and 15 rebounds, and made 8 of 10 shots from the field. All of this, however, was not enough to get him chosen to the all-tournament team.
LSU's so-called "freak defense" couldn't keep Indiana from outscoring the Tigers, 11-1, over the last five minutes. The Tigers went into their panic offense, and the last field goal it produced was a pullup jumper by Fess Irvin with 5:04 to play.
"They were in a good position," Alford said. "All they had to do was handle the ball and hit their free throws. Fortunately, that didn't happen."
Said Knight, oh-so facetiously: "Well, I think it had a lot to do with our 'freak offense.' We went to it in the last five minutes. We had been working on it. We just saved it."
LSU had an opportunity to rewrite the ending a bit when Irvin was fouled with 26 seconds left and the Tigers clinging to a 76-75 lead. But the freshman, who entered the game as a 79.7% free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one. LSU finished the game 4 of 10 from the foul line. Indiana was 21 of 24.
Brown, a firm believer in silver linings, tried to find another. "I'm heartbroken for (Irvin) that he missed that free throw," he said. "But that'll make him a better player. You've got to turn failure inside-out."
Knight practically turned things upside-down with a crimson-and-cream display of emotion in the middle of the first half. It began with 11:39 left before intermission, when Thomas was whistled for a three-second violation. It ended with Knight pounding his fist angrily on the scorer's table, directly in front of Gene Corrigan, a representative of the NCAA Tournament Committee and the athletic director at Notre Dame. In between, Knight was assessed a technical foul during a TV timeout for storming onto the court to confront an official.
"I may have backed the guy into a position where he had to call it," Knight said. "I did not see a sign of whether it was a three-second call or a foul. I didn't know what the hell it was, and that was all I wanted to know. I had a legitimate question, so I walked out there."
Of his conversation with Corrigan, Knight said: "I told him that I thought Notre Dame had made great strides under Lou Holtz."
LSU guard Anthony Wilson made one of two free throws after the technical to tie it at 18-18. The remainder of the first half was a furious exchange of scoring spurts that ended with the Hoosiers holding a 47-46 lead.
A three-point shot by Bernard Woodside gave LSU its first lead of the game at the 10:54 mark. Another three-pointer, this time by Irvin, a hook in the lane by Jose Vargas and Woodside's steal and score gave LSU a 28-22 lead with 9:19 before halftime.
Then, Alford went to work. After watching the Hoosiers score their first 10 field goals from inside the 10-foot range, Alford drilled a three-pointer at the 8:31 mark. That began a 12-2 Indiana spurt in which Alford scored eight points and had a lovely one-touch pass to Calloway for an assist on a fast break.
A few turnaround jumpers from Nikita Wilson, who led LSU with 20 points and was named the tournament's most outstanding player, enabled the Tigers to keep it close before halftime. Another, just 20 seconds into the second half, gave LSU a lead that it wouldn't lose until Calloway's game-winner.
Indiana went more than five minutes without scoring early in the second half, enabling LSU to build a 63-51 lead. Knight, who had assured the media on Saturday that LSU would be no pushover, was right. And his players knew it.
"They're a tournament team," Thomas said. "They come to play when it's tournament time and the lights are on."
But the Tigers were blinded in the closing minutes. Garrett slammed home a rebound to make it 75-68 with 4:08 left. Reserve guard Joe Hillman checked into the game for the first time at the 4:38 mark. At the 3:45 mark, he took a pass from Alford and scored on a fast break, drawing a foul. He made the ensuing free throw, then checked out. His numbers on the game: 3 points in 1 official minute.
Thomas made two free throws with 3:06 left to make it 75-73. Darryl Joe made it 76-73 with the front of a one-and-one with 50 seconds remaining, but that would be the Tigers' last point as their attempt to spread the court and work the clock collapsed beneath some heavy Hoosier pressure. Smart converted a one-and-one with 40 seconds left to to cut LSU's once cushy-lead to 76-75. All that was left was a happy Hoosier ending.
And what of the fallen Tigers, who came so close to a storybook finish of their own?
"We couldn't have made it as far as we did if we didn't believe in each other," Nikita Wilson said. "Of course we'd like to be out on the court, cutting down the nets. But, like Coach Brown says, sometimes things happen for a reason."
And sometimes they just go according to the script.