Larry Bird made 12 straight field goals in a 35-point day and Indiana State's defense forced De Paul into a desperate last shot that failed today, giving the undefeated No. 1-ranked Sycamores a 76-74 victory in the NCAA tournament semifinals.
"When you're hitting like I was today, I felt sorry for the other guys because I was begging for the ball," said Bird, the 6-foot-9 1/2 college player of the year who also had 16 rebounds and nine assists.
Bird feeling sorry for his teammates, as he was, makes about as much sense as E. F. Hutton feeling sorry for his investors. This guy is carrying them to glory. Forget the fractured left thumb that Bird said caused most of his 11 turnovers today. He can score with one hand from 20 feet in the dark.
Now winner of 33 straight games, most victories ever by a major-college team, Indiana State will face Michigan State Monday night-The Bird against Magic, at last-for the national championship. The Sycamores use three or four players who do well what is asked of them, which, on offense, is this: Get the tarnation out of Bird's way.
So with his 16-of-19 shooting and those nine assists, Bird accounted for 25 of Indiana State's 35 baskets today. It was left to his playmates to earn their scholarships with a last stand on defence.
De Paul trailed by a point, 75-74, when Coach Ray Meyer, the 65-year-old veteran of 37 seasons, called time with 36 seconds to play.
It first seemed that Meyer ordered his Demons into a last-shot gamble. They handled the ball outside against Indiana State's man-to-man defense. Finally, with 10 seconds to play the ball went to freshman center Mark Aguirre, who, with three seconds left, threw up an off-balance, 22-foot jump shot that didn't come close.
"We wanted to get the ball low to Mark," Meyer said, "or take the first good shot that was available. We had a good shot (for Gary Bardshaw at the free-throw line), but the boy didn't take it. Then Mark had to take a forced shot under pressure."
The pressure came from one of Indiana State's anonymities, 6-7 forward Bard Miley. Fronting Aguirre, he forced the center to move away from the basket if he wanted to touch the ball.
"I knew he'd play one-on-one because there was only about 10 seconds to go," Miley said. He was in Aguirre's face on the shot. Yet he worried. "It was his most fluid shot of the game. I thought he hit it."
"Theyy forced us out of what we wanted to do," Meyer said. "It was a credit to their team."
Fouled on the rebound of Aguirre's shot, Indiana State's Leroy Staley made one of two free throws with a second to play. All that was left for De Paul was a court-length inbounds pass trying for a tipin. "A hope-the-hell shot," Meyer called it, and hope died when the ubiquitous Bird intercepted the pass.
While Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Michigan State embarrassed poor Penn, 101-67, in a seminfinal that was painful to behold, the Indiana State-De Paul game was balm for the purists' fevered brows.
Bird made 10 straight shots in the first half, but Indiana State led only 45-42 at intermission. The lead went to 11 early in the second half before De Paul, shooting from the doorstep of the Mormon Tabernacle, came back to take a 73-71 lead with five minutes to play.
The Demons have been this tournament's sentimental favorite. Only incorrigible misanthropes could root against a white-haired imp of a coach of 65 who said reaching the final four was the thrill of his whole life. De Apul upset Marquette to become cannon fodder for mighty UCLA, whereupon it promptly upset UCLA to get in with the Bird.
And now, having made up an 11-point deficit on the outside shooting of Aguirre and guard Gary Garland, De Paul regained the lead at a time when Indiana State, in the process of making a pathetic 22 turnovers, seemed ready to show it was, in fact, a pretender who beat mediocrities all year.
De Paul chose then to run a delay game. Less than a minute later, though, with a chance to go four points up, guard Clyde Bradshaw threw the ball off Curtis Watkins' foot and out of bounds. The turnover was one of only eight all day by De Paul.
Indiana State immediately tied the game at 73 on a layup by Bob Heaton, whose last-second basket won the Mid-west Regional championship, 73-71, over Arkansas. Heaton scored after a nifty pass from Brid.
At 1:37, De Paul's Garland made only the second of two free throws. His team now led, 74-73.
Here came Heaton again-another layup, this time off a pass from guard Carl Nicks. That one put Indiana State ahead, 75-74, with 50 seconds to play and caused someone to ask the winning coach, Bill Hodges, if Heaton-who made a 50-footer at the buzzer to a avert a regular-season defeat-was the team's "designated pressure shooter."
"If he's designated by anybody, it's the good Lord," Hodges said.
Trailing by that single point, Meyer called his timeout with 36 seconds to play.
It's just a darn, bad shame either team had to lose," said Hodges, the rookie coach who was born the year Ray Meyer took over as De Paul's brain.
Indiana State, after shooting 75 percent in the first half on 21 of 28, wound up at 62.5 percent. De Paul hit 54.5. Just as important as Indiana State's shooting superiority was the Sycamores' work under the boards, where they outrebounded the losers, 32-19.
Bird, who yesterday broke his season-long quarantine of newspapermen, said he had no special feelings about the eagerly awaited "Magic and Bird Show" coming up Monday night.
"Me and Earvin Johnson don't go matching up," Bird said. "We're different kinds of players. He's a passer and I'm a scorer."
About the game, Bird said, "We just better come to play or we'll get blown out."
Would Bird talk about his future in the pros?
"No, I gotta go see my mother," he said, and he did. CAPTION: Picture, Indiana State's Larry Bird flips ball behind him to teammate Alex Giblert as he nears defender James Mitchem of De Paul. AP