Smart Shot Gives Indiana NCAA Title
By John Feinstein
The hero was Keith Smart, whose 16-foot base-line jumper with four seconds left won the national championship for Indiana tonight at the Superdome. The Shot, as it will be known forevermore in Indiana, gave the Hoosiers a 74-73 victory over a Syracuse team that played about as hard and as well as a team can.
The victory was perhaps the sweetest of Coach Bob Knight's career. It made him only the third coach in NCAA history to win three national titles and came less than two years after he humiliated himself by throwing a chair during a game, making people wonder if his career might be in jeopardy.
"This was a team that three seasons ago could not hold a lead and was always vulnerable," Knight said. "These kids have come a long way to get here. I'm really not sure yet if we're that good a team. But I could not be happier for them."
Smart's shot climaxed a superb basketball game in which both teams kept making runs, though neither ever gained control. The biggest lead of the night was eight points, when Syracuse (31-7) led, 52-44, but Indiana (30-4) answered that with a 10-0 spree.
"That was as tough and as enjoyable a game as I can ever remember," said Indiana guard Steve Alford, who finished his career with a 23-point game that culminated with him playing a crucial decoy role on the final possession.
"That's what makes this team so tough," he said. "When teams work to contain me, anybody on the floor can score. Tonight, it was Keith. He just stepped up at the end and took over when he had to for us to win."
Smart, one of only four Hoosiers to score, got 12 of Indiana's last 15 points, and he will never forget those last two. It was set up by a frenetic final minute that began with Syracuse looking as if it would walk away with the title.
The game was tied five times in the last five minutes. The final tie came at 70-70 when Smart hit a reverse layup with 1:20 left. Syracuse, poised almost the entire evening, got the ball inside to forward Howard Triche, who hit a short shot from the lane for a 72-70 lead with 56 seconds to go.
"I thought our kids did everything we could have asked of them," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "We played good defense, we took good shots the entire night."
Triche's shot made it 72-70. The Hoosiers pushed the ball down the floor and Smart tried a short jump shot. It rolled off the rim and Triche grabbed the weakside rebound with 38 seconds left. Alford fouled him immediately and Knight called time to let Triche think.
He thought well enough to make the first shot, but missed the second. Smart rebounded, raced the length of the floor and laid in the ball with 30 seconds left to cut the margin to 73-72. Indiana called time again.
"We wanted to foul them almost right away if they got the ball inbounds," Alford said. "We wanted to put them on the line as many times as necessary."
Once was enough. The ball came inbounds to center Rony Seikaly (18 points, 10 rebounds), but, with Alford screaming at his teammates to foul, the Hoosiers never got to Seikaly. Instead, the ball went to forward Derrick Coleman. This time, the Hoosiers fouled.
Coleman had been dominating inside all night with 19 rebounds. But now, with 28 seconds left and a national championship in the balance, he turned freshman. Knight called time again. "I thought I was okay," Coleman said. "I wasn't that nervous. I just missed."
Coleman was nervous. As he reached for the ball, he pulled his hands back for a second, then finally took the ball. His shot barely hit the front rim. Boeheim, burned by Smart's quick trip down the floor on Triche's miss, had pulled all his players off the foul line. Indiana rebounded the miss uncontested.
Knight doesn't believe in calling time to set up a last shot. "I wanted us to start running our offense with about 15 seconds left," Knight said. "Actually, I thought we waited a little too long. But our kids did a hell of a job making sure we got a good shot. Daryl :Thomas: did not take a panic shot inside. He got it to Keith for a good one."
Naturally, the Hoosiers' first choice to shoot the ball was Alford. But Syracuse was just as determined to make someone else shoot it.
"We were in a box with :Sherman Douglas: on Alford," Boeheim said. "We did a good job denying him the ball but they did a little better job getting a good shot."
With Douglas chasing him, Alford could not get loose. The ball swung to the left side. Smart, on the perimeter, went inside to Thomas, who turned and was confronted by Coleman.
"My job on the play was to screen, to try to get Steve open," said Thomas, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. "But Steve was covered. So I posted, got the ball, turned and shot-faked. Coleman just didn't budge. Keith flared back out on the base line in the corner and I gave it to him."
Smart had dropped to the base line and was open when Thomas flipped the ball to him. Triche, seeing Smart open, raced from the foul line to try to get to Smart. Too late.
"When it got to 10 seconds and Steve was covered, I had to penetrate and try to get the ball to Daryl," Smart said. "When he was covered he kicked it back to me. I never looked at the clock. I just shot."
Smart went up, arched the ball toward the hoop and it went in, the ball dropping cleanly through the net as the clock rolled from five seconds to four.
For a moment, the Syracuse players stood stunned, not moving, although later Triche and Greg Monroe each insisted he had signaled for a timeout right away.
"I called it," Triche said. "But the ref didn't see it, I guess."
"I thought there were three seconds left when we called it," Monroe said. "But about two more ticks went off before they gave it to us."
The clock didn't stop until it hit one second. After Syracuse's timeout, Knight called one to make sure his defense was set. The ball came inbounds, a heaven-help-us job, and Smart leaped up and intercepted it.
"I thought it was a hell of a basketball game throughout," said Knight. "When we walked off the floor at halftime I didn't feel very good. We just weren't that sharp. I thought the last few minutes of the first half were crucial because if we had been behind at the half we might have been in trouble."
The Hoosiers trailed, 29-24, with four minutes left in the half, thanks largely to the rebounding of Coleman and the shooting of point guard Douglas, who ended up with 20 points and seven assists. But they finished the half with a 10-4 run, capped by two three-pointers by Alford, the second with three seconds to go. That gave Indiana a 34-33 lead.
The second half was one spurt after another. Syracuse went up 37-34, then Indiana went ahead, 41-37. Then it was Syracuse, 45-41, and 52-44. That 15-3 run ended with 13:18 to go. Knight eschewed a timeout and his team justified that with a 10-0 run to lead, 54-52.
"That was the second crucial time in the game," Knight said. "Sometimes, when a team makes a run like that, it takes over the game. But Syracuse wouldn't let us."
Syracuse came right back to lead, 61-56, on Douglas' scoop shot with 7:20 to go. Indiana scored the next five to tie at 61 on a short jumper by Smart with 5:40 left and, from that moment on, every possession had the Superdome in an uproar.
Finally, it came down to Smart and Thomas. "All the runs back and forth and we never cracked, not once," Thomas said. "At the end, when I looked at that shot and all I saw was Coleman, I thought I might crack. But then I saw Keith and he did the rest. I love the man."
Smart, whose father saw him play basketball for the first time tonight, just smiled as he told his tale again and again.
"Anybody on this team could have made the shot," he said. "But I had it and I took it." He smiled. "Yes, I'm glad my father was here. I think he probably liked that ending."
© Copyright 1987 The Washington Post Company