The Hoosiers were also essentially unscoutable. Every opponent knew that Indiana ran a motion offense—"If you're standing, you're wrong" was one of Knight's pet expressions—and played exclusively man-to-man defense, but Knight's genius lay in making rapid adjustments at both ends of the court. In the 1975 Holiday Festival final at Madison Square Garden against St. John's, for example, Knight instructed his two ball handlers, Buckner and Wilkerson, to remove themselves from the offense temporarily and brought out his forwards, May and Abernethy, to handle the ball down the stretch because they were better from the line; indeed, they combined to make 13 of 14 free throws as Indiana won 76-69. During the national championship game against Michigan, the Hoosiers suddenly found themselves without one of their stars (more on that later). Knight tried two players in relief before settling on sophomore guard Jim Wisman. In the second half Knight told Wisman to keep himself out of the offense without looking as if he were. "Stay on top, Jimmy," Knight told him. "You can pop back for relief, but you don't have to shoot." In that way, too, Indiana would have a man back against the Wolverines' potent fast break. Result? Wisman took only one shot in his 21 minutes, but his floor game was a major factor in the Hoosiers' 86-68 victory.
But even with all they had going for them, the Hoosiers still needed a lot of luck. SI collected memories of that season from players and coaches (efforts to get in touch with Knight weren't successful) with a particular emphasis on the close calls that might've ruined the perfect season.
Judging by how decisively the Hoosiers pounded defending NCAA champ UCLA in their opener, the season looked as if it would be a waltz. The nationally televised game was played at St. Louis Arena on a court laid over ice, and both teams complained about the footing. Obviously it hurt Indiana less, as the Hoosiers got out to an early lead and won 84-64, with May scoring 33 points. However, two weeks later, at Assembly Hall against Notre Dame, the Hoosiers revealed a capacity for blowing leads that would haunt them the rest of the season. They were ahead 51-37 with about 11 minutes left when the Irish, helped by a zone press, outscored them 13-2 over three furious minutes. When star Adrian Dantley converted a follow shot, Notre Dame was within a point, 59-58, with two minutes to go, but the Hoosiers put away the game when Buckner sank two free throws with 11 seconds remaining (after just having missed two with 23 seconds left). Final score: 63-60. Talk of a "super team" ceased, particularly with an always-tough Kentucky looming four days later.
Following a 98-74 regular-season rout of Kentucky the previous year, Knight had slapped Wildcats coach Joe B. Hall on the back of the head. He said it was meant to be playful, but Hall took umbrage. Add in Kentucky's payback victory in the NCAA regional final and there was much pregame attention—and tension. Again, Indiana jumped out early, leading 23-11 after 10 minutes. Again it failed to build on the margin. The Hoosiers couldn't find a consistent offense. May would finish with 27 points, but during one span he missed seven straight shots and the Wildcats found themselves with a 62-60 lead and the ball with a little more than a minute to go. Much to Hall's consternation, though, guard Larry Johnson inexplicably took a wild shot (there was no shot clock then and Hall wanted his players to eat up some time), Indiana rebounded the ball, and May hit a jumper that tied the game. Kentucky's Rick Robey untied it, and, with nine seconds left, Abernethy missed a four-footer. The ball bounced off the rim and, as the Wildcats' fans started to celebrate, Benson stuck out his hand and in went the tip to put the game into overtime. "What I was trying to do was get the ball back on the board, so I could go after it again," says Benson, who now works as a financial planner in Bloomington. "That'; what I had always been taught."
Buckner chuckles at that explanation "I still say that Bennie just stuck out hi; hand, and the ball happened to go in." Ai any rate, the Hoosiers dominated in overtime and won 77-68.
The games against Notre Dame and Kentucky convinced Knight that Indiana, experienced as it was, had work to do. "He depended a lot on Quinn's leadership that season," says Crews, "but around this time he really let us have it, sarcastic, riding us working our butts off." Abernethy in particular felt the heat. "I was the only different starter from the year before, and I remember feeling a lot of pressure during that time," says Abernethy, who now owns and operates the Indiana Basketball Academy. The Hoosiers got the message and sailed through the rest of their preconference schedule, going into the Big Ten with a 9-0 record and looking very much like the best team in the land.
THE BIG TEN SEASON
If Indiana was overconfident about winning the Big Ten, which it had ripped through the previous season, that feeling was gone after the first league game, Columbus, Ohio, three days into the new year. Knight had been a member of the 1959-60 national championship team at Ohio State under Fred Taylor, and he revered the man. He especially wanted to beat the Buckeyes because he felt that hit alma mater was pushing Taylor out the door. (In fact, Taylor did resign at the enc of the season.)
Ohio State led only twice but kept hanging around and was poised to tie the score when sophomore Jud Wood made a clear steal off Crews at midcourt with 1:16 left But Wood blew the layup, and Abernethy trailing the play, got the rebound. He looked at Crews and said jokingly, "You need any more help tonight?" That's how cool Indiana was under pressure. The Hoosiers held on to win 66-64, but says Radford. "We lose that game if that kid doesn't blow that layup."