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Retro Rewind: Indiana vs. Syracuse 1987

Posted on March 17 2019

National Championship Game March 30, 1987 

Announcers:  Brent Musberger and Billy Packer

Starters: #2 Syracuse

C- R. Seikaly | F- D. Coleman | F- H. Triche | G- G. Monroe |G- S. Douglas

Starters: #1 Indiana

C- D. Garrett | F- D. Thomas | F- R. Calloway | G- S. Alford | G- K. Smart


Indiana entered the championship game as a slight favorite over Syracuse.  In 2019 retrospect it seems as if it should be reversed.  Syracuse had three future stellar NBA players that started for them in Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, and Derrick Coleman.  Indiana had talent too, but not the kind of talent that would go on to have long productive NBA careers. 

However, Syracuse was the underdog and entered the National Championship game after winning their Final Four matchup against Providence in what was described by Seikaly as a "very ugly game."  Meanwhile, the Hoosiers earned their championship game bid after a thrilling, fast paced shootout with overall #1 ranked UNLV.  Riding Alford's 33pts and shooting around 65% for the game the Hoosiers out ran the Runnin' Rebs to the surprise of all the national pundits.

My 6 year old self was in Indianapolis for this game.  My family was staying in a downtown hotel there because my mom was helping her friend plan her wedding.  We were watching the game on TV sitting on a couch with my family and my mom's friend and her fiancé.  It's worth noting my mom's friend and fiancé didn't give two shits about sports.  By the end of the night they had to believe the Barnett's were bat shit crazy.  More on them later. 

Tip controlled by Syracuse's Howard Triche.  After a turnover CBS flashes a graphic that shows the Hoosiers are 4-0 in championship games.  As an Indiana fan I always enjoyed saying, "We might not get there often, but when we do we win it!"  Until 2002 of course...damnit!  Thanks Juan Dixon. 

Smart is able to slice through the Syracuse defense, elevate and get fouled.  2 for 2 from the line for the games first points.  Coleman gets Syracuse's first basket on a turnaround over Daryl Thomas.  If you paused the game at any point having not seen either of these two teams play before and asked somebody to pick out who they thought would be the best player on the court 9 out of 10 would pick Coleman without hesitation.  He has a pro's body, and a swagger to him that makes him stand out in a crowd.  Even as a freshman.

As Packer states early on, Syracuse has a big advantage inside with Seikaly and Coleman.  Thomas and Garrett are going to have to play their asses off inside if IU has a chance at winning the war on the boards.  Something to keep an eye on as the game goes on.

Back to 2019 for a second.  When watching this game I'm shocked to see Syracuse mixing up their defenses.  

We now know Jim Boeheim as the master of the 2-3 matchup zone which Syracuse now NEVER comes out of.  However, in 1987 they start off in their 2-3 then switch to a box and 1 with Triche chasing Alford.

Speaking of Boeheim I remember despising that dude when I was growing up.  For the hour and a half the game lasted I couldn't stand all the cut away shots of him constantly whining about something.  I love him now, and appreciate what he's been able to do at a single university for that amount of time.  It's so rare to see that anymore. The Boeheim's and Coach K's are a dying breed.  In '87 though he was the enemy and I couldn’t stand him.

Syracuse back to the zone and Thomas finds some room for a power layup coming down the lane.  Calloway hits the defensive boards for IU pushes it up and misses a pull up jumper in transition but it is slammed home by Dean Garrett over Rony Seikaly! 

Dean sending an early message to Seikaly there and fist pumped to accentuate the play running back down the court. 6-3 Hoosiers!

And dare I say it?  Syracuse just went...man to man (re read that in Bill Rafferty's voice and you'll enjoy it a lot more).  It works as Seikaly blocked Thomas and Douglas found Triche for a fast break dunk. 

Smart has taken two ill advised jump shots early in the possession and Knight isn't happy.  His latest led to a Sherman Douglass long pull up jumper as Syracuse takes its first lead 9-8 with just under 15 minutes to go in the first half.

Coming back from commercial break Packer breaks down IU's motion offense and how Indiana works to get Alford open.  The breakdown is as complex as the graphics (simple) and I can't help but think CBS lost out on a potential gold mine by not letting Coach Knight listen to Packer explain his motion offense then give a rebuttal. 

So far Rick Calloway hasn't gotten it going offensively but he's been everywhere defensively and on the boards.  He has two fouls so Knight pulls him in favor of Steve Eyl, one of two IU super subs along with Joe Hillman.  Up until this point the game has favored the Syracuse-Providence Final Four game more so than the IU-UNLV game in that it's ugly.  Both teams are shooting 33% from the field.

Thomas stops a 6-0 Syracuse run with a nice bank shot off the right block over Seikaly.  After a Coleman offensive rebound that led to him hitting two free throws Syracuse changes defenses again and throws a full court trapping press at IU.  This leads to a comedy of errors.  For as good as they were against UNLV's press this was a bit of a surprise.  Let me try to explain...

  • Alford gets trapped but dribbles around it to the middle of the court.
  • He gets it poked away by Coleman but the ball goes to Eyl who promptly hands it back off to Alford.
  • Alford then dribbles up the sideline right into Greg Monroe who tries to take a charge.  No whistle.
  • Alford jumps to avoid going out of bounds and throws the ball across half court to Garrett.
  • Seikaly deflects the pass, gains possession momentarily before trying to pass but eventually loses it back to Eyl in Indiana's backcourt.
  • Eyl takes a dribble and has it knocked away by Sherman Douglas before he recovers and throws it ahead to Smart.
  • Smart then takes two dribbles, throws a skip pass to a wide-open Alford who drains his first 3 of the game.

 Just how they drew it up!  15-13 IU before Douglas answers with a three of his own. 

How good is Keith Smart?  He grabs a defensive rebound over Coleman, goes the length of the court blowing by 5 other people, then finds Alford for another wide-open 3 after drawing the defense into the lane. 

I’m all about Steve Alford.  Always have been always will be.  However, going back and re-watching this game gives me a real appreciation for what each of these guys brought to the table to make this team successful.  I love Smart, and Calloway's game.  Absolutely love it.

Coleman and Seikaly are starting to flex their muscles now.  First, Coleman showing his versatility as a 6'10 playmaker with a beautiful steal and handling the ball all the way down court until he was fouled.  In the time before Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant a player Coleman's size wasn't able to do that.  So smooth and versatile.

Seikaly on the other hand is a brute.  He threw Garrett down then grabbed an offensive board and a put back then blocks Thomas emphatically at the other end.  Their height, strength and length is a real concern going forward.

A pair of Douglas to Seikaly alley oops puts Syracuse up 4 and has their crowd roaring.  The second of the two was a pass that was heading to Triche filling the left lane but got deflected by Eyl and somehow hit Seikaly right in stride for a monster oop.  Everything going Syracuse's way now.

Thomas is able to kill the momentum finding some space between Coleman and Seikaly for a nice floater.  He follows that up with another strong basket inside to tie the game at 24.  The flow of the game has really picked up from the first 5-8 minutes of the game.  Both teams seem to have settled in.

Syracuse gets back to back baskets, first a turnaround by Coleman then a 3 by Monroe to give the Orangemen their largest lead of the half at 5.  Seems like the worst time to bring in Kreigh Smith and Todd Meier but that's exactly what Knight does.  You never question The General. 

Smart with a great steal and jam!  That happened so quick I had to rewind it to see how he stole the ball from Douglas. 

With the 1st half winding down Daryl Thomas needs to be singled out for his outstanding offensive half.  Battling Coleman and Seikaly he's managed 12 hard fought points and really gone right into their chest. 

Alford hits his third 3 of the half against the 2-3 zone bringing IU to within 2 with under two minutes to play.  Indiana gets possession back and holds for the last shot.  Syracuse goes box and 1 with Stevie Thompson chasing Alford.  It doesn't work.  Alford is able to maneuver himself free on a handoff pass and rub screen by Joe Hillman and drills a corner three! 

IU leads by 1.  Replay shows that Alford is already jogging off the court to the locker room by the time his three hit the bottom of the net.  Dude had that Steph Curry swag before Steph Curry.  Shooters know when it leaves their fingertips.  No need to watch it.  Indiana 34, Syracuse 33.


2nd Half

Seikaly opens the scoring with two free throws after a hard Calloway foul.  Calloway only played 6 minutes in the first half and didn't score.  He is slow getting up from the foul and all Hoosier fans immediately think back to the LSU Elite 8 game when he went down.  His leg is still wrapped like a mummy and it's nice to hear Musberger and Packer talk about the heart he's shown all year since being operated on.  Even though he will later transfer to Kansas, Indiana fans have to respect the guts he showed during his time with the Hoosiers.

Thomas picks up where he left off in the first half using good footwork and a head fake to get an easy two inside.  On the next IU possession Smart drives into the heart of the defense and elevates over 3 Syracuse players for a soft floater.  Silky!  IU back on top 38-37.

Alford bangs in another 3 but Seikaly answers with a three point play of his own, overpowering Garrett inside.

Pivotal point in the game here after Smart throws an errant pass out of bounds Knight pulls him and has a stern talk after he gets to the bench.  He knows he can't afford to leave Smart there long but he has to make a point about valuing possession.  Hillman comes in with IU up a point.

Another Seikaly put back, two IU turnovers, and a three by Monroe puts Syracuse up 4 in a flash before Alford hits his sixth 3 to stop the run.  As Musberger notes, "He's keeping Indiana in the game with his threes." 

Derek Brower makes his presence felt with 5 straight points to push the 'Cuse lead to 6.  He's been great off the bench all night.  Triche nails a jumper and Syracuse is threatening to blow this thing open.  I distinctly remember Triche making that shot in 1987.  I had a bad feeling in my stomach at that point, and the tears were starting to form in my eyes.  I thought it was over.  In reality there were still 13 minutes left and we were only down 8.  On the flip side if this happened to IU today I would still declare the game over and still have tears in my eyes.  I’m now 38 years old.

The Syracuse run ends in the most unusual way...an Alford airball?!?!  Luckily it bangs off the side of the backboard so hard that it ended up at the free throw line where Garrett happened to be standing.  He grabbed it and dropped it in for two.

An obvious part of Syracuse's game plan is to attack Joe Hillman with Sherman Douglas.  They tried it unsuccessfully in the first half and when they tried again in the 2nd Hillman was ready.  He made a clean strip of Douglas around half court that cost Syracuse possession and Douglas a foul. 

Smart re enters the game for IU after serving his time for a bad pass.  He makes his presence felt immediately catching the ball at the foul line, making a quick move inside, and exploding toward the basket before being fouled by Coleman.  This gives Musberger a chance to tell a national audience that NBA agents are "flesh peddlers" and should leave Coleman alone until he decides he's ready for the NBA. Hahahahahahaha!- says 2019 me.

Garrett with a big rejection of Seikaly leads to Alford's 7th three pointer of the game coming from the left corner!  The Hoosiers are back to within 2 with under 12 minutes to play.  After Seikaly turns the ball over and Smart beautifully sets up Thomas for a dunk the momentum has squarely shifted back to the Hoosiers! 

Packer sums the assist up by simply saying, "You can't teach that."  "That" is exactly what Keith Smart brought to this IU team.  "That" is what made a good team a championship team.  "That" was athleticism and basketball I.Q. meshed together.  "That" was fucking beautiful to watch.

Hillman strips the ball from a Syracuse player inside, drives the ball all the way down for a layup until Coleman flies in and GRABS the ball out of midair with BOTH hands.  Incredible play.  Still Indiana ball.

Smart then contorts his body 57 different ways for another bucket inside putting IU back on top by 2, 54-52.  Under 10 minutes to play.  Sherman Douglas goes on a 5-0 run by himself to go with a Monroe bucket and Syracuse is back up by 5.

This entire game has been a series of runs. Each one being answered by another one.  Indiana is going to have to climb the ladder back with around 7 minutes to go.  Thomas is determined to lead the way getting to the foul line and finishing another great assist from Smart. 

With Calloway out of the game for long stretches Hillman has had to step up and he has.  With multiple steals on defense and 6 assists he's played an outstanding floor game.  5:33 left and Smart looks ready to take this game over with another slashing bucket.  With the defense concentrated on Alford and Syracuse playing zone he's been able to slash and dash his way through the defense at will.  Tie game. 

Thomas makes another great play by grabbing a defensive rebound and while stumbling toward a traveling violation throws a full court outlet to Alford who lays it in.  His first and only two point field goal of the game. 

After Triche puts Syracuse on top by one with a free throw Smart strikes again with a slicing bank shot.  IU coaxes Coleman into taking a jumper and Smart elevates for a monster rebound.  Indiana now has the ball, up a point, with 3 minutes left in the game.  

Big possession here. 

Alford uncharacteristically turns the ball over which leads to a great behind the back pass fake by Douglass before laying it in.  That's a heartbreaking turnaround if you're an IU fan.  Fortunately, Thomas ties it up on Indiana's next possession after being fouled by Seikaly.  Syracuse ball, tie game.  2:24 to go.

Syracuse goes right inside to Seikaly for an and-1.  He misses the free throw but Coleman collects the most impressive of his 19 rebounds jumping about 6 times while tapping the ball back out to himself before he's finally able to secure it.  Timeout Syracuse with 1:42 left and they cut away to Knight rolling up his sweater as he liked to do.  You never question The General.

Indiana is in desperate need of a defensive stop and Dean Garrett gets it for them.  He is able to make Douglas change his shot and grabbed the following miss.  

Smart comes right back down, surveys the right wing before going baseline for a dynamic reverse layup.  Triche gives Syracuse the lead back barely rolling in a 6fter over the front of the rim. 

With :38 seconds left Smart misses a pull up jump shot and Triche is fouled as he collects the rebound.  

At this point in 1987 the floodgates have opened in the Barnett hotel room.  Having tears in my eyes already from an earlier run I am now balling as the game goes to commercial break following a timeout by Coach Knight to try to "freeze" Triche. 

My sister is right next to me crying too.  We are hugging each other, balling our eyes out while my dad paces around the room and my mom hugs us.  Meanwhile, her friend and fiancé are standing behind the couch wondering why in the hell we care so much and I would assume questioning how we were raised.  I can still picture that scene in my head 32 years later. 

When the commercial break ends my parents attempt at consoling us have failed and we are still crying, loudly as the rest of the game plays out.  Triche makes one of two and IU gets a quick Smart bucket cutting the lead to 1.  Syracuse ball.

A couple years ago I went with my dad and brother in law to hear Bob Knight speak at Butler University.  He chose to talk more about what happened in the next sequence of plays than breaking down the last IU possession.  To paraphrase this is what Coach Knight had to say about Syracuse's last possession. 

Indiana had to press and foul to get the ball back with time on the clock.  Boeheim made a smart decision by having Coleman as the inbounder because he was Syracuse's worst foul shooter during the season and although a stud he was still just a freshman.  They dropped Alford back as a centerfielder and face guarded Syracuse's guards.  That forced the ball to go to Seikaly in the corner. Smart started to break toward Seikaly like he was going to trap him and everybody else stayed in front of their man denying them the ball which left Coleman as the only open option.  When the ball went back to him Smart committed the foul.

Coach Knight said it took 5 guys being locked in and thinking while reacting to what they were seeing which allowed them to get the guy they wanted on the line.  His pride in telling that story was evident. Like coaches of all levels tell you it's the little things that lead to big results.  Coleman to the line for a 1 and 1 with :28 left.

Knight calls timeout to "ice" the freshman.  Coleman is short with his first attempt and IU now has the ball with a shot to take the lead.  Hillman dribbles to the frontcourt, gives it to Smart at the top of the key, back to Hillman at halfcourt, to Smart on the left wing, Smart passes to Thomas at the short corner on the left side of the court.  Thomas pump fakes once, Coleman doesn't bite.  He takes one dribble toward the 3pt line and shuffles the ball to Smart who is now cutting off of him going baseline.  Smart catches the ball, takes one dribble further toward the baseline, elevates over Triche and buries "The Shot" with 5 seconds remaining on the clock!

The only reaction from the Syracuse players is one of dejection.  The ball went through the net with 5 seconds on the clock but by the time they call a timeout the clock reads :01.  The Indiana bench and crowd are going nuts.  Meanwhile, the Barnett kids are using the same tears of sadness as new tears of joy!  My parents are going nuts, I'm still hugging my sister, we are both still crying and my mom's friend and fiancé are looking for the nearest exit! 

The IU player reactions are great.  Alford and Smart realize there is still time left but Alford is about to lose it he's so excited.  Hillman has his hands on his head in disbelief, Meier is doing cheerleading harkies on the bench, and Calloway and Garrett just want to hug Smart.  

Still a second left to play so IU needs to settle down and get in the huddle to set their defense.

Indiana chooses not to guard the in bounder instead putting two men on Seikaly down low at the other end of the court.  Coleman throws a baseball pass 3/4 of the length of the court which is picked off by...Keith Smart (who else?)!  With the clock at double zeroes he heaves the ball high into the New Orleans night and Indiana wins its fifth National Championship!


Josh Barnett

Blogger | 19NINE

Aaron Meyer

Blogger | H.V.S.

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