A measles epidemic has gripped the Indiana University campus the last few weeks, so Ohio State's basketball team had to be inoculated after its game in Bloomington last Saturday afternoon. Which is an obvious setup: After being shot down for the Big Ten championship 81-60 in the last game of an emotional season, the Buckeyes got shot up.
Ohio State probably realized this wasn't going to be its day when Indiana's 7'2" center, Uwe Blab—listed as a questionable starter because of a sprained right ankle—charged on court five minutes late to join his team in warmups, a bit of theater enhanced by the shouts of "OOH-vay, OOH-vay" from the 17,000-plus fans in Assembly Hall. A few minutes later The Star-Spangled Banner was preceded by the German national anthem (Das Deutschlandlied, if you're scoring) in tribute to Blab, a native of Munich. The psychological ploy was the brainchild of university President Dr. John W. Ryan, and, no, he does not have better things to do, especially during basketball season.
Although Blab later admitted he doesn't know the words to Das Deutschlandlied, the song obviously inspired him. Showing no aftereffect from his ankle injury. Blab handled Buckeye Center Granville Waiters easily: He scored six straight Indiana points in a two-minute span that increased a 13-5 lead to 19-5 with 10:30 left in the first half. After Blab's spurt, Ohio State never again drew closer than nine points.
Blab wasn't the only reason for the blitzkrieg. The Buckeyes got an early (Randy) Wittman sampler when he scored eight of the Hoosiers' first 10 points with his textbook jumper. After Wittman, a 6'6" forward, had shot 11-for-16 and finished with 24 points and zero turnovers, Hoosier Coach Bobby Knight said, "You have just seen the only person who could be considered the MVP of the Big Ten." On that point, no one would argue with Knight, even if there were someone around Bloomington who would dare to argue with Knight.
Collectively the five Hoosier starters (all seniors except Blab) shot 69% from the floor (32 of 46). Steve Bouchie, a 6'8" forward, had 10 points but, more important, held Buckeye Forward Tony Campbell to a mere 10 shots and 12 points, well below his 19.5 average.
Guard Jim Thomas, who canned six of 10 from the floor and five of five from the line en route to 17 points, had four steals, all leading to Indiana baskets, and five rebounds, just below his team-leading 5.3 per game average. Indiana got a fine performance, too, from Point Guard Tony Brown, who dealt eight assists and made all four of his shots. Knight has been struggling to find a playmaker all season, sometimes starting Brown, sometimes freshman Stew Robinson and occasionally using Thomas, Wittman or Winston Morgan in that role.
Wittman, Blab, Bouchie, Thomas, Brown. Das Deutschlandlied. Add Assembly Hall, where Knight is now a phenomenal 145-14. Add Knight's record in season-ending Big Ten games, which is now 11-1. In short, the Hoosiers threw everything at the Buckeyes except the Kitchel sink.
Which is quite the point, really. In the first five minutes of a game at Michigan on Feb. 24, Forward Ted Kitchel, Indiana's leading scorer and one of the most accurate shooters in the country, removed himself from the action because of an aching back. Four days later he underwent surgery for a ruptured disc at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Indiana went sour without him, losing to Michigan 69-56 and two nights later to Michigan State 62-54, and with those defeats a two-game Big Ten lead. Ohio State had pulled even with three games left.
No one was more shattered by the loss of Kitchel than Wittman, Kitchel's four-year roommate, fellow grad student in Indiana's School of Public Environmental Affairs (each missed a year of basketball because of injuries but finished his undergrad studies in four years) and buddy. Wittman made only seven of 29 shots from the floor in the nightmarish two-game set in Michigan. Kitchel could've shot as well in a body cast. "We've been through too much together for my injury not to affect him," Kitchel said.
The post-Kitchel preparation officially began at 6:30 on Feb. 28, the Monday morning following the loss at Michigan State. That's when Shirley Wittman, mother of Randy, called WIRE in Indianapolis, the flagship of the Indiana University basketball radio network, with an appeal for Hoosier fans to stay behind the team and to remember Kitchel with cards and letters. "I might've tried to stop her," Wittman says, "but I guess it turned out all right." Kitchel was deluged with mail following his four-hour surgery that night, and the fans turned out with fire in their eyes when Purdue came to town on Thursday.