Instead, Michigan State got vicious, zooming to a 50-17 halftime lead, the widest first-half margin in the final-four history. With the score 38-8, Kelser sat on the floor near the sideline during an injury time-out and observed to the yawning newsmen on press row, "We're doing it to them, aren't we?"
Of course the Quakers did a lot of it to themselves, because they were suffering from a severe case of "stage fright," as Center Matt White put it. Penn was so shaken by the bright lights that it committed all the usual mistakes and even invented a new one when Vincent Ross passed to James Salters, who was standing out of bounds.
The Johnson-to-Kelser combination was more effective. They combined for five buckets—two of them dunks—and Johnson wound up with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Kelser had 28 points and nine rebounds. When Johnson left the game with 5:33 remaining, he hugged his friend and whispered into his ear, "If we keep playing like this, it's going to be worth a couple of million dollars for us in the pros."
The Spartans equaled two records in their romp, scoring 101 points and winning by 34. But their fans were so bored that before the first half was over they were yelling, "We want the Bird!" On the other side of the arena, the Indiana State rooters answered, "You'll get the Bird!"—and proceeded to show the Spartan backers the bird, too.
In the game that followed, DePaul very nearly clipped Bird's wings. Although he led everyone with 35 points—on fabulous 16-for-19 shooting—16 rebounds and nine assists, his 11 turnovers helped keep the Demons in the game, and he did not score a point in the final 7:32. "If I had known I would make 11 turnovers," he said, "I would have thought we would lose."
Oh, yes, that was the Bird himself talking. As a matter of fact, he chirped like a canary last week. It turns out that, when he cares to, Bird can be a very good talker, not in the grammatical sense, but for his country-boy honesty and sense of humor. "The final four means more to my teammates than it does to me," he said. "I thought we should have been here last year." Looking ahead to his pro career, he declared, "If we win or lose here, it don't make no difference to me. I'm gonna get my money anyway." And what is he going to do with it? "I might buy everybody on the team a new car, and Brad Miley [the Sycamores' non-shooting defensive expert] a new jump shot."
The Sycamores needed all the jump shots they could muster against DePaul. In the first half there were 15 ties and three lead changes, and neither team could do better than a four-point lead.
Indiana State seemed to take control in the second half when it extended a three-point lead to 11 with only 3:23 gone. DePaul was able to scramble back for three reasons. First, after taking over from Forward Curtis Watkins, Center James Mitchem held Bird to eight points in the last 18:44 of the game. Second, Indiana State players began turning the ball over at an alarming rate, especially Bird, who was bothered by his fractured left thumb. Third, the Blue Demons began shooting the lights out; a stretch of six-for-six accuracy brought them from a 67-61 deficit to a 73-71 lead with 4:59 remaining.
DePaul's upset chances looked good a few seconds later when freshman star Mark Aguirre rebounded a Bird miss and the Blue Demons went into a four-corner delay. But a bad pass gave Indiana State a chance to tie, and with 3:27 left substitute Bob Heaton sneaked inside and converted a pass from Bird into a layup. Following an exchange of missed shots, Guard Gary Garland put DePaul back in front by making the first of two free-throw attempts at 1:37. Bird rebounded the missed second foul shot, and 47 seconds later Carl Nicks, usually the Sycamores' No. 1 supporting actor, finally did something right. After having a horrendous game—Nicks shot four for 13 with five turnovers—he helped cinch the victory by driving past Garland, drawing Watkins away from the basket and passing to Heaton, who scored another uncontested layup to make the score 75-74 in Indiana State's favor.
DePaul still had plenty of time to come up a winner. During a time-out with 36 seconds left, Coach Ray Meyer, 65, told his team to either take the first good outside shot that came along or work the ball inside to Aguirre. This was the 929th game of Meyer's 37-year career, and not surprisingly his strategy was right. But, unbelievably, Garland passed up a short jumper—he did not realize he was open—and Aguirre did not touch the ball until he was 20 feet away from the basket and only four seconds remained to be played. Backing in on Miley, Aguirre tried a turnaround jumper that bounced off the rim into the hands of Sycamore Leroy Staley. A foul shot ended the scoring for Indiana State, and a DePaul full-court heave with one second left came off the backboard into the hands of Bird to end the marvelously played game.