Five Of IU’s Most Important March Madness Moments

Posted on March 14, 2023

As we jump into the thick of March Madness, PlayIndiana wanted to remind Hoosiers of some of the biggest moments in the history of IU men’s basketball.

These March Madness highlights are some of Indiana University’s wildest moments. While all are insane in their own right, they’re not necessarily the “best” moments in history. 

Of course, new moments stepping into the picture are always a possibility. If IU’s tournament run ends up being memorable this year, then you’ll be able to bet on all of the action thanks to Indiana sports betting.

IU dethrones top-ranked Duke

This moment took place long before March Madness betting was legal in Indiana, but it’s easily one of the best underdog stories regarding IU. The team’s incredible comeback in the Sweet Sixteen against the significantly more talented Duke Blue Devils in 2002 has to make this list. 

Entering the game, not a soul gave the Indiana Hoosiers a chance to win this matchup. Everyone seemingly felt this was over before it began.

The Hoosiers were double-digit underdogs entering the game. And that prophecy came true as they fell behind by double digits in the second half. 

Still, despite their impending defeat, the Hoosiers – behind the inspired play of Jared Jefferies – came alive late in the second half. They stole victory from first-seed Duke, which was stunned at the final buzzer.

Duke’s Jay Williams had a chance to tie the game with a free throw, but the shot bounced off the rim and into the hands of Indiana’s Jeff Newton. It was Newton’s rebound that secured the massively unexpected March Madness Tournament win.

Jefferies finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds. He found help from teammates such A.J. Moye (14 points as a reserve) and Jarrad Odle (15 points as a starter). They both helped push the Hoosiers over the edge and into a victory.

Indiana Hoosiers become second-ever NCAA men’s national champions

Becoming the second-ever NCAA men’s basketball national champion in 1940 also makes this list; that was 83 years ago! It’s held close by Indiana Hoosiers fans, but the game was hysterical. 

Indiana, which eventually won the national championship game, 60-52, over the University of Kansas, did not score its first basket for 8 minutes. Somehow it managed to rack up 60 points over the rest of the game and even led, 32-19, at halftime.

So, how could a team that took 8 minutes to score its first basket in the most important game in school history lead by 13 at halftime and eventually win by double digits? Branch McCracken said a day later celebrating the win back in Bloomington, according to the Indianapolis Star:

“What really helped the boys win the championship, was a telegram, read over a loud-speaker system on the floor just before the game started from the businessmen of Lawrence, Kan., stating that Indiana would be ‘just another ball game’ for Kansas. The boys looked serious for a few minutes and then looked over at me and smiled. Then they went to it.”

It does not matter whether it was over 80 years ago in 1940 or today in 2023; never, ever provide your opponent with bulletin board material.

‘The Game That Almost Never Was’

Some of the biggest names in basketball history played in the 1981 NCAA men’s basketball national championship. It featured the Indiana Hoosiers and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Basketball titans were involved in the game, such as:

  • Dean Smith
  • Isiah Thomas
  • James Worthy
  • Roy Williams
  • Bob Knight

And then, a sweeping news report came across every TV in the nation. President Ronald Reagan had been shot in an assassination attempt.

Suddenly, everything was thrown, and no one knew what was next. Would there even be a game? Is the president alright? Ultimately, there was a game, and Reagan did recover, but the magnitude of such a moment will never be forgotten.

Eventually, Indiana University came away with a 13-point win over the University of North Carolina. But this game will always be known as “The Game That Almost Never Was.”

IU finishes its 1976 season undefeated

This might be the best team Indiana University has ever had. 

It began the season as the first-ranked team in men’s college basketball and won every game all season long. It never relinquished its title as the top-ranked team.

The team eventually capped its incredible season with a national championship win by overcoming the Michigan Wolverines, 86-68.

Still, despite how easy it is to spell out the Hoosiers’ accomplishments in the 1976 season, it was by no means easy. Booby Wilkerson – the best player on the University of Indiana squad – was elbowed and had to be removed from the game very early on.

That led to the Hoosiers finding themselves with an eight-point deficit. A deficit that resulted in a halftime score of 35-29 in favor of the University of Michigan. 

That is when the Hoosiers went on to outscore the Wolverines, 57-33, in the second half to win by 18 points.

Since the legendary Indiana Hoosiers head coach Bob Knight led the 1976 IU men’s basketball team to perfection, no team has done it since. 

A game-winning jump shot on March 30, 1987

During the 1987 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game, Indiana University battled with the University of Syracuse.

The game was a back-and-forth affair as Steve Alford kept the Hoosiers in the game by making an absurd (at the time) seven of his 10 attempts from beyond the three-point arc.

His shooting performance was so rare and impactful that it left the Syracuse Orange terrified of what damage he could wreak in the final moments of the game.

With Syracuse up 73-72, its defense came out highly focused on Alford, specifically, a decision that eventually spelled its doom.

As the Orange sold out to stop Alford, Keith Smart got to his spot on the baseline in the mid-post, and he rose and drilled what ended up being the game-winning basket with 1 second left on the clock.

The last-second heave gave IU the title in what might have been the most incredible moment in Hoosiers’ March Madness history.

Photo by AP Photo; illustrated by PlayIndiana
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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver who covers the Nuggets as a beat writer. He regularly contributes to PlayIndiana on issues surrounding the online gambling market. His byline can be seen at ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report and others.

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