I’ve written about IU basketball in this column before, and my memories run deep — back to when as a News-Sentinel sportswriter I reported on the last undefeated Division I college basketball team in history in 1976 — the Hoosiers. And I was thrilled when staying up past midnight on Nov. 11 I watched on TV as IU went into overtime in their regular-season opener to knock off No. 3-ranked Kansas.
Tuesday night before a record coliseum basketball crowd of 11,076, Coach Tom Crean brought his then-No. 3-rated team to Fort Wayne to play a mid-major school that was expected to be pre-Big Ten-season fodder for the Hoosiers. It was a rare privilege for a team like Fort Wayne to host a game like this — the first time IPFW has hosted IU since 1967 — and there had been talk about it potentially being a good game because the Mastodons bring back a strong team after a 24-10 season last year. Still, they were 13-point underdogs.
But then they ran out to an early 10-point lead and kept holding on and holding on, leading most of the game only to be tied at the end of regulation and go into overtime. Most IU fans were then probably thinking the Hoosiers would finally dominate as expected in the extra five-minute period. But it didn’t happen, and the minority of blue-clad fans in the coliseum flooded the floor when the ’Dons intercepted an inbounds IU pass with less than three seconds left in the overtime to seal the upset victory, 71-68.
So here’s my logic for rooting for the Mastodons to win. IU is legitimately a national contender. Fort Wayne Coach Jon Coffman declared after his team’s victory that they are a top 5 team nationally. They proved it against Kansas, and losing this game this early in the season shouldn’t matter that much in the long run if, indeed, the Hoosiers can regroup and play with the strength of their potential.
But for Fort Wayne, the game was historic. At a time when IPFW is in the news for on-campus turbulence due to restructuring and elimination of programs and a vote of no confidence for its chancellor, its basketball team pulled off the biggest victory in its history and along with it made a strong declaration of its legitimacy as an NCAA Division I contender.
In a post-game interview, Coffman said, “I appreciate Coach Crean coming. What he did today was unbelievable. It doesn’t happen in college basketball. ... And for him to bring his team to Fort Wayne ... They’ll be talking about Indiana coming to Fort Wayne for the next 50 years, and he was the reason they did it, and no one else in the country will do that. ... Win or loss, we won the game before we started.”
But the actual win really did make it historic.
Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.