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When the Big Ten season began two months ago he was on the bench in street clothes watching his Indiana teammates scratch and scramble and ultimately fall to Ohio State. When the season ended last Sunday afternoon he was on hand again. Only this time senior Mike Woodson—Marvelous Mike, Miracle Mike, Mr. Mike to all those Buckeyes through whose monster of a zone defense he had just finished cutting a swath as wide as all the snowy outdoors—had come dressed for the dance.
What Woodson had done was score 21 points and, even more important, wear down Ohio State with patience and penetration. What his classmate, Butch Carter, had done was contribute two game-saving free throws in regulation, then a steal and two game-winning free throws in overtime. What the Hoosiers had done was win the game 76-73, the cherished Big Ten championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Welcome home, Mr. Mike.
In truth, Woodson had made an improbable recovery from back surgery and returned to the Hoosier lineup five games earlier, scoring 102 points in an Indiana streak that brought the Hoosiers to this long-anticipated showdown with their archrival. But it took a pressure-cooker of a conference finale involving two teams tied with 12-5 league records for Woodson's versatility and value to become fully apparent.
The 6'5" guard-forward-anything-else-you-want is Arthur Ashe on a basketball court: smart, subtle, stylish. When Ohio State appeared to be pulling away—it had a 59-51 lead with 7:38 to go—Woodson slithered into a seam in the defense, made two baskets, missed a shot but then made another, at which point the entire Buckeye team started gathering in his vicinity. That freed Indiana's quicksilver freshman guard, Isiah Thomas, who ultimately contributed 21 points, as well as 10 rebounds and seven assists. So Thomas drove the lane and was fouled. When he converted his free throws the score was tied, 63-63.
Clark Kellogg's unreal triple-pump basket through heavy traffic—which would have seemed more unreal had the precocious freshman not been providing 18 points and 16 rebounds worth of similar stuff that afternoon—gave the lead back to the Buckeyes with 47 seconds to go. Now Indiana patiently set up for the tying goal. The Hoosiers nearly waited too long.
Center Ray Tolbert plunged inside but the Buckeyes' Herb Williams blocked the shot. It was the longshoremen's, uh, Buckeyes' eighth such intimidating rejection of the game, and they were ready for another when Carter came up with the ball in the key amid vast confusion. Instead, Williams committed his fifth and disqualifying foul before Carter could attempt the shot.
Seven seconds were left when Carter went to the line for his free throws. Ohio State's guards came over to say hello. Kelvin Ransey even reached out to shake Carter's hand and then patted him on the fanny.
"I was thinking of all the loose-ball drills and all the running I did last summer," Carter said. It would have been a long spring if he hadn't made both ends and saved the game. For the moment.
Ransey, who had 17 points and seven assists, and Kellogg both had chances to win it for Ohio State, but Ransey's attempt bounced off the rim while Kellogg's never reached it. Which left only the overtime, or what Indiana Coach Bobby Knight called "situation fun time."
It was a barrel of laughs for the Hoosiers, mainly because Tolbert hit from 10 feet and because Carter stripped Ransey and fed Thomas for a breakaway to push Indiana ahead 69-65. Kellogg countered with a pair of free throws with 4:06 remaining, but the Hoosiers then held the ball for more than three minutes and the desperate Buckeyes now had to start fouling.