Felling was a brave man. "You know, Marty Simmons was pretty good in eighth grade, too."
Knight was losing a fight with his mouth, which was curling into a grin. He had trouble staying angry with Felling. His mood was too good to be ruined, anyway. Only four more seasons and Damon could play for Indiana. And, in fact, the coaches were delighted to see Knight this eager and interested in the future.
It is a crisp October day in 1990, Damon Bailey, Indiana freshman, fails to help on defense. Knight stops practice. "You know, Bailey, when we had Alford here he was so much tougher than you it wasn't even funny. Why, I never had to talk to him about defense even once in four years!"
That was a ways off. For now, Damon Bailey's spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame was secure.
Back To The Brink
On Sunday, March 9, Knight's mood was good, especially when the pairings for the NCAA tournament were announced. Despite suffering another loss to Michigan the previous day, this one an 80-52 blowout that decided the Big Ten championship, Indiana, 21-7 for the season, had been placed in the East Regional as the No. 3 seed.
Its first-round opponent would be Cleveland State, a team that was making its first appearance ever in the NCAA tournament. But the Vikings were 27-3 for the season, and Knight did not think that this would be an easy game. Cleveland State was quick and deep, and it pressed all over the floor. The press had given Indiana trouble during the season. But with nearly a week to prepare for the game on Friday, March 14, Knight certainly saw it as winnable.
Before the game in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, he gave the players the final word: "Boys, we've told you and told you that every minute you play in this tournament has to be all-out. But I want to tell you something. No one in this tournament has worked harder to get hero than you have. It's five months exactly today. You know what you've been through, and it was pointing toward this. We are right where we want to be right now. So let's go out and make sure we didn't do all this work for nothing."
Knight wanted a good start. He thought that might make the Cleveland State players think they were in over their heads. Get their confidence down early, and the game might not be as tough as he had thought it would be.
The start could not have been much worse. Morgan took the first shot and nailed it for a 2-0 lead. It was to be the only shot he took all day. Cleveland State set up its press. All week long Indiana had worked with Morgan bringing the ball in bounds to start the offense. The first three times he touched the ball, Morgan could not get it into friendly hands. By the time the sequence was over the score was 6-2 Cleveland State. It would be a struggle, just as Knight had feared. Still, there was no need to panic. If the Hoosiers handled the press, they would win the game. Though Indiana trailed 45-41 at halftime, Knight was clinical with the players. Only when he and the coaches retreated to the bathroom to talk did he get angry. "I ought to fire all of us for setting up that way against the goddam press," he said, kicking a nearby stall in frustration. "All we have to do is get it in before they set up and we're all right. Jesus, I didn't want to be behind in this game."