Keith Smart will always have a prominent place in Indiana lore.
The transfer from Garden City Community College hit a baseline jumper with 3 seconds remaining in the 1987 national championship game to lift Indiana to a 74-73 win over Syracuse.
The victory marked the Hoosiers' fifth – and, to date, last – national championship. It was the third and final title in the career of coach Bob Knight, who remains one of only six coaches in Division I history to win three NCAA championships.
When the Hoosiers won their fourth title in 1981, The Journal Gazette reported that Knight was teary-eyed when speaking about the victory after the game. In 1987, he was far more serene.
“I'm happy as hell we won,” the coach said after the Hoosiers downed the Orangemen. “I think we have great fans. They enjoy it. It's great for them. Hell, if we had lost, I'd have gone fishing tomorrow. If we win, I go fishing tomorrow. I don't keep track of the numbers.”
Indiana finished 30-4 and won the Big Ten title in addition to the national crown. Here is a look back at the Hoosiers' 1987, which won its title 33 years ago last week.
Best player: Steve Alford
Steve Alford is one of the best scorers in Indiana history, and he earned All-American honors in 1986-87 for averaging 22 points and 3.6 assists, while scoring at least 30 points twice in the NCAA Tournament. He was helped greatly by the introduction of the 3-point line in college basketball before the season, and he shot 53% from beyond the arc that year.
Alford finished his career as Indiana's all-time leading scorer with 2,438 career points, a mark that has since been surpassed by Calbert Cheaney. He went on to play four years in the NBA and later coached Manchester University from 1991 to 1995.
Best non-title game: March 28 vs. UNLV
The Hoosiers met what many observers considered the best team in the country in the Final Four. UNLV, led by coach Jerry Tarkanian, was No. 1 for all but three weeks during the season, rolling up a 37-1 record prior to meeting the Hoosiers. UNLV had the best offense in the country, scoring more than 92 points per game, and forward Armen Gilliam averaged 23.2 points.
Gilliam had 32 points against the Hoosiers, and Freddie Banks had 38 on 10-for-19 3-point shooting, but Alford had 33 for the Hoosiers, Dean Garrett added 18 points and 11 rebounds and Indiana won 97-93 after shooting better than 61%.
UNLV made 13 3-pointers, while Indiana attempted just four, all from Alford, a disparity Knight noted after the game.
“This was a classic example of how much impact shooting can have on a game,” Knight said. “They hit 13 3-point shots, worth 13 extra points. I believe basketball should involve passing and a lot of things other than just coming down and throwing it in.”
Some of UNLV's players took aim at the referees and Knight afterward.
“I don't think (the refs) wanted to see us in the national championship,” center Jarvis Basnight said. “We knew the only way we were going to win was if we blew them away. Everybody thinks we're a bunch of outlaws.”
“Every two seconds (Knight) was crying to the refs about something,” forward Eldridge Hudson said. “You don't see Coach Tark doing that stuff.”
Smart's baseline jumper was the culmination of a huge second half for the guard as he stepped up while Syracuse keyed on Alford. Smart finished with 21 points, including 17 after halftime, and six assists to lead the Hoosiers to a win in front of 64,959 at the Louisiana Superdome, the most ever to see a college basketball game to that point.
Smart scored 12 of Indiana's final 15 points. Alford finished with 23 points and Daryl Thomas chipped in 20 points.
“We were playing Alford on the 3-point shot,” Syracuse freshman Derrick Coleman said after the game. “We were concentrating on Alford so hard that Smart was able to move in and get a lot of easy baskets.”
The game-winning shot came off a pass from Thomas. Smart got the ball near the elbow and drove left to the baseline before squaring his shoulders and firing on the move.
“I can thank Daryl for not taking that shot and passing to me,” Smart said afterward. “That was a wise decision on his part.”
Smart sealed the win when he intercepted Syracuse's desperation inbounds pass on the final possession of the game.
What Knight said
During the 1987 NCAA Tournament, Knight penned a regular column for The Journal Gazette, giving his thoughts on the tournament and the Hoosiers' progress. Before Indiana faced Syracuse, Knight reflected in the paper on how special it was to reach another championship game.
“Before we get here, we all talk about it being just another game,” the coach wrote. “But I think that once the kids get down here, they all really appreciate how worthwhile it is in terms of all their hard work and effort.”
After the game, Knight contrasted the 1987 team with his 1976 and 1981 championship teams.
“Each of those two teams were clearly the best team in the tournament,” Knight said. “This team won by hanging in there and making the big plays and doing what it had to do.”
Clarification: In Monday's story, the Texas-Pan American's team name was misidentified. The college, which merged with Texas-Brownsville in 2015 to become Texas Rio Grande Valley, is now known as the Vaqueros but in 1981 was nicknamed the Broncs.
This past weekend would have been the Final Four in Atlanta. In honor of that event, The Journal Gazette is reminiscing about IU's three most recent NCAA men's basketball championships teams, continuing today with the 1987 team.
Sunday: Indiana's 1976 title team
Monday: Indiana's 1981 title team