Touring the Hoosier State and a record-setting game
Posted: Thursday March 17, 2005 1:47PM; Updated: Thursday March 17, 2005 2:15PM
Last year, SI On Campus went coast-to-coast during March Madness, covering 5,495 miles at a rate that would have sent Washington State's decidedly down tempo Dick Bennett into cardiac arrest (Spokane to Reno to Phoenix to Las Vegas in four days!) The only difference this year: more road-trippers! Log onto SI.com every day from until April 5 and check in with the SI On Campus team as it SUVs from New York to the play-in game in Dayton to the men's and women's championship games in St. Louis and Indianapolis.
The Road Trip crew took a trip through Hoosiers' history.
Hoops is so ingrained in the DNA of Hoosierland we barely knew where to begin plotting our tour Wednesday morning. (By the time the day was done, we didn't even have time to hit French Lick, the hometown of Larry Bird, or picket outside the NCAA offices in Indianapolis to protest the lack of tournament love for Notre Dame and Savannah State).
Our visit had a twist: For the first time since 1972, no team from the Hoosier State was selected to the field. What we found was a fascinating lesson in history, given by a local legend immortalized by the greatest sports film of all-time, and a sour taste of the present, sampled by lackluster game that made Indiana University seem like a ghost of its former self.
Heading west on I-70, we passed the Steve Alford Inn and Knightstown on our way to Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse. It's here the final game in the movie Hoosiers was shot, a venue John Walters equated to the Vatican of hoops. Our intention was to make our way to the court for a little two-on-two. But alas, our plans were thwarted by an Eastern Kentucky practice that relegated us to the bleachers. John was a little disappointed that Travis Ford, the coach of EKU, didn't pull out the tape measure and have a player get on a teammates shoulder to measure the height of the rim. After a quick game of two on two in the building's auxiliary gym, we piled back into the SUV to meet one of John's college buddies for a drink at a bar called Plump's Last Shot, located inside a small, green-colored house we drove by a few times because the sign wasn't lit.
The establishment's name is in honor of Bobby Plump. Yeah, that Bobby Plump, the shooter of the deciding basket in Milan's 34-32 state championship victory over heavily-favored Muncie Central in 1954. You know him better as Jimmy Chitwood of Hoosiers fame. Inside the quaint little bar, we admired the pictures and newspaper clippings devoted to Milan's championship, the plaque inducting Plump into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and a sign affixed to the right wall bearing the pub's logo on wood taken from the original Milan high school basketball court. After a couple of drinks, I approached the bartender to get his Final Four picks, only to discover that Plump was en route.
Twenty minutes later, Plump arrived (think Hugh Hefner in daytime clothes) and spent half an hour at our table talking Indiana hoops. As for his famous play? In the movie coach Norman Dale calls a final timeout and plans to use Chitwood as a decoy. In real-life Plump was always the first option. Plump also revealed that before attempting to put his team ahead, he held the ball for an astonishing 4:13 without moving. "Tom Carnegie, who was announcing the game, told me later, 'Don't you know how hard it is to fill up four minutes when there's no action on the floor?'" Plump remembered. "He said [he was saying things like], 'He's still holding it. He's still holding it'"
THE ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP
From New York to St. Louis, SI On Campus' three-week tour of the NCAA tournament
Warmed by tales of happier times in Indiana we set off for Bloomington, home of Indiana University, currently relegated to hosting an opening-round NIT game against Vanderbilt. While Assembly Hall held its fair share of red and white-clad fans, the crowd of 5,113 was the lowest in school history. In their defense, its spring break, but if it were the NCAAs, we we have a hunch they would have sold-out.
The four of us sat in the student section behind the band, beneath the school's 1981 and '87 NCAA championship banners.
Before the game, the Hoosier spirit wasn't immune to bouts of negativity. A group of fans sitting behind us decried the Hoosiers' disheartening performance all season predicting that next year could be the last for head coach Mike Davis. But, when the Hoosiers closed to within five late, the crowd came alive with chants of "I-U!" and "Let's Go Hoosiers!" The Hoosiers still lost 67-60 ... at home ... in the first round of the NIT.
"I'm thinking it's better than last year," said sophomore Matt Draper, when asked what he felt about the loss. "But it definitely sucks."