In the hotel Knight called Alford's parents. They had been bombarded with phone calls from the media, and Knight wanted to cheer them up. "Steve made a mistake," Knight said. "But it doesn't make him a bad kid."
At Rupp Arena that evening Indiana played its guts out. Calloway, in his first college road game, was brilliant. The Hoosiers did the two things Knight had said they had to do to stay in the game: handle the Kentucky press and rebound. It is easy to say, but Indiana almost certainly would have won the game if Alford had played. The one thing the team lacked on this night was someone to shoot the ball over the Kentucky zone with consistency.
With the score 32-32 at intermission, Knight told the team, "You have now made this a 20-minute basketball game. But you have to play smarter to win. We are still making mistakes on defense. Don't mope, don't feel sorry, don't feel hurt. Feel like, 'Goddammit, we're gonna win a basketball game.' The easy 20 minutes is over. This is the hard 20 minutes. Let's be smart and get it down to the last three minutes where we can win the game with our guts and our hearts. Don't go out there now thinking you're ready to play. Go out there knowing you're ready."
They were ready. Each time Kentucky took a lead, Indiana answered. Thomas and Todd Jadlow were doing a good job on Walker inside. But Indiana was getting tired. Without Alford there were no easy baskets. Every possession was work. Kentucky reeled off nine straight points to take a 51-42 lead. The crowd was berserk. "Just be patient," Knight said. "There's lots of time. Don't get rattled. There is nothing to be rattled about."
They listened. They came back. It was 59-56 Kentucky, with 1:44 to go. The crowd was now nervous. This couldn't happen. Indiana couldn't win at Rupp Arena without Alford.
Kentucky wanted to get the ball inside. Indiana stole it. Robinson and Harris burst downcourt with only Kentucky guard Roger Harden back. Robinson, with the ball on the left side, glanced at Harris, a step behind him. If he passed, Harris might dunk. He also might lose the ball or charge into Harden. Better, Robinson thought, to go straight to the hoop. He did. Harden had only one play: turn, plant his feet and try to take the charge.
Robinson soared. He and Harden collided and went down together in a heap. The ball went in the basket, and 24,000 pairs of eyes were on referee Tom Rucker, who had blown his whistle as soon as the two players made contact. Rucker is a Big Ten official, and, at that, one of Knight's least favorite Big Ten officials. Now, as Robinson and Harden untangled, Rucker gave the call for charging and ruled that Robinson's basket did not count.
Knight, hands on hips, just stared at Rucker. When a coach spends a career getting on officials, there are going to be moments when one of them turns on him and says, in effect, "Take that." This was Tom Rucker's moment.
That call was the ball game. It ended 63-58. Knight was inconsolable. His team had given him everything he could have asked of it—except a victory. But that was the only thing he had come for. He had almost no voice left as he went through their mistakes in the locker room. "The problem is you aren't hurt enough," he said. "All I want to do is go into a room somewhere and cry. Boys, there's no such thing as a moral victory. The game was there to win and we lost. If you just followed the rules, we would have won. Instead, those cheating sons of bitches won."
Ten minutes later Knight walked into the hallway, calm and clear-eyed, to go to the interview room. Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton was walking past. He saw Knight and came over to offer a final word of consolation after a taut ball game. Knight cut him off. "Eddie, didn't I ask you to get neutral officials when we talked last spring?''