Twenty-four hours ago, someone from a Cleveland television station told Indiana Coach Bob Knight that most people in his hometown thought Cleveland State had two chances against Indiana in the opening round of the NCAA tournament: slim and none.
"If the people in Cleveland think that," Knight answered, "then they don't know very much about basketball."
Today, much to his dismay, Knight found out how right he was. Playing harder, quicker, smarter and tougher than Indiana, the unheralded Vikings never trailed in the second half and stunned the Hoosiers, 83-79, before 16,857 in the Carrier Dome.
The shocking victory puts Cleveland State (28-3) into a second-round East regional game Sunday against St. Joseph's. The Hawks (26-5) got clutch play down the stretch from Maurice Martin and just held on to beat Richmond (23-7), 60-59. Martin finished with 21 points, but perhaps more important, brought Richmond star Johnny Newman (25 points) under control down the stretch, holding him to two points in the final five minutes.
That taut game proved a mere warmup to the drama of the second game. Cleveland State Coach Kevin Mackey, a slick-talking Bostonian, had told his team all week that not only could it compete with Indiana, it could win. When the Vikings stole the Hoosiers' first two inbounds passes and gained a 6-2 lead, Mackey's words rang true.
"If they had come out and gotten a lead right away, it might have been too much for us," said Cleveland State guard Shawn Hood, one of 10 players who scored for his team. "But we got off to a good start and just went from there."
Indeed they did. Indiana has struggled often this season against pressure defenses and today was no exception.
"I think we got the thing taken away from us right from the beginning and never got back into it," said Knight, who lost a first-round NCAA game for the first time ever. "Their press hurt us in the beginning and then in the end it was too tough for us to come from behind. They're quick and they're strong and they're a pretty damn good basketball team."
Although Steve Alford (24 points) managed to keep the Hoosiers close early, the Vikings began to take control midway through the first half.
In a sequence that summed up the game, the Vikings took the lead for good during a 12-2 run. First, 5-foot-7 point guard Ed Bryant made his only basket with a neat, twisting move inside to put Cleveland State up by 27-26 with 10:04 left. Then he stole the inbounds pass and fed Clinton Ransey.
Ransey, the younger brother of New Jersey Nets guard Kelvin Ransey, slammed home two of his game-high 27 points, and in five seconds, a one-point Indiana lead had become a 29-26 Cleveland State edge.
It got worse for Indiana. Forward Andre Harris (16 points, 10 rebounds) pulled a defensive rebound down to his waist and Ransey snatched it and laid the ball in for a 31-26 lead. By the time Bob Crawford made a 17-footer it was 37-28, Vikings, and it was clear that something was happening here.
"I was scared to death before the game of their ability to pass and catch the ball," said Mackey, who came to Cleveland three years ago from Boston College, where he was an assistant. "But I knew we were quicker and deeper and I knew we were hungrier. Pressure is insidious; it wears you down."
Still, Indiana crept to within 43-41 on Alford's 20-footer with 53 seconds left before Clinton Smith's follow shot made it 45-41 at the half.
Indiana would come out and take command in the second half, right?
Wrong. Cleveland State scored the first six points and had the lead at 51-41 before Indiana even took a shot during the first three minutes. From there, it was a question of whether the Vikings could hold on, which they did as Ransey took control.
While Knight calmly shook hands with each of the Vikings, Mackey was hugging anything that moved. "These kids have worked thousands of hours for this," he said. "I wanted inner-city kids, the ones that aren't on the pros' IBM computer. I thought I could win with them."
Today, he did.