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Knight had been preparing for three days. He didn't change any X's and O's—"It was too late in the season for that," he said—but he did alter some p's and q's. To wit:
Every shot would be taken within the context of the offense. The basic Knight passing game would be elongated by four or five passes per possession. This wasn't a chore because Kitchel, for all his contributions, was the only Hoosier with a tendency to take bad shots.
Thomas would have to go to the basket more. Ditto for Blab. Bouchie, who bounced between regular and sub so often in his four-year career he never knew whether he was supposed to be Larry Olivier or Larry Storch, would have to adjust to being a full-time starter. Wittman would simply have to forget Kitchel's problems and take care of his own.
At noon on the day of the Purdue game Kitchel was still in his hospital bed, resembling "a corpse in a three-piece suit," according to Mrs. Wittman, who visited him that day. Late that afternoon, unbeknownst to any of his teammates or Knight, Kitchel checked out of the hospital, hobbled into his parents' van where he rested on a makeshift bed during the one-hour drive to Bloomington and limped into the dressing room minutes before game time. If this had happened in South Bend, they would have made a movie about it.
After Kitchel had been given a lengthy standing ovation Indiana unveiled its offense—the Hoosiers would take an average of only 41 shots in their final three games, as compared with their average to that point of 53—and a Knight man-to-man defense that was different only in its intensity and its emphasis on double-teaming and helping out. After a 64-41 victory over the Boilermakers, Knight told the crowd over the public address system, "We need you Saturday night, too." The fans responded and so did Indiana; the 67-55 win over Illinois clinching a tie for the conference title, with Ohio State remaining to be played.
" Indiana could play three nurses and two wounded veterans and win in that place," Purdue's Gene Keady told Bill Estep of the Columbus Citizen-Journal. Iowa's Lute Olson figured Assembly Hall was "a 15-to 20-point advantage for Indiana." Augury, it seems, is his specialty.
But on the Thursday before the game, Ohio Coach Eldon Miller still had reason for hope. He had taken a team that was picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten and whose best player, Clark Kellogg, had gone to the pros, to a 19-win season and the top of the league. He had a player in Campbell whom he considers "one of the best forwards in America." He had two lookalike, playalike guards in Troy Taylor and supersub Ron Stokes, whose quickness had been the major factor in a 70-67 win over Indiana on Jan. 8.
But last Saturday none of that mattered. Miller had no one to contain Wittman, who first burned Forward Joe Concheck, then Guard Larry Huggins, who's considered Ohio State's best defensive player, then backup Guard Dave Jones. He had no one to contain Blab when Waiters went MIA. Offensively, Taylor and Stokes, who are each 5' 11", looked like a pair of Smurfs trying to run against the Dallas Cowboys when they penetrated against Bouchie, Blab and Wittman. "We always help out, but we wanted to cut them off out farther this time," Bouchie said. Then, too, Miller had no one to match the vocal cords of Roy Samuelsen, the Indiana music professor who sang Das Deutschlandlied.
Whether Indiana will be nearly as effective away from home remains to be seen, but going into the tournament the brief postgame comment of Mitch Haas, an Ohio State reserve forward, seems appropriate. "Wow!" said Haas. "That's my quote. Wow!" In German, that roughly translates to wunderbar!