1978–79 Indiana State Sycamores men's basketball team

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1978–79 Indiana State Sycamores men's basketball
Missouri Valley Conference champions
Conference Missouri Valley Conference
Coaches #1
AP #1
1978–79 record 33–1 (16–0 MVC)
Head coach Bill Hodges
Home arena Hulman Center
« 1977–78 1979–80 »

The 1978–79 Indiana State Sycamores men's basketball team is considered the greatest in the school's history. The Sycamores were undefeated in the regular season and were led by Larry Bird. He led an undefeated team to the national title game versus a Magic Johnson-led Michigan State Spartans team, and ended the season as National Runner-Up with a record of 33–1. To date, the 1978-79 Sycamores are the only team to advance this far in their first-ever NCAA appearance.

Season summary[edit]

In 1979, the NCAA tournament championship game was the most-watched game in the history of the sport, in no small part because of Indiana State star Larry Bird. Bird wasn’t a one-man show, but the unheralded Sycamores rode him to a 33-0 record heading into the title game. The well-rounded Bird averaged 29 points, 14.8 rebounds, and, most significantly, six assists as he changed the way the game was played.


Head coach Bob King suffered a stroke and was unable to continue as head coach of the Sycamores. Assistant Bill Hodges was elevated to the position of head coach.

Exhibition vs. Soviet National Team[edit]

On November 20, the touring Soviet National team came to Hulman Center to play Indiana State. ISU defeated the Soviets, 83–79, to become one of only four college teams to beat them that season.[1]

Regular season[edit]

During the 1978–79 season, Indiana State qualified for the NCAA Tournament. ISU finished the regular season to finish 29–0, 16–0 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and earned the top ranking in the country.[1]

The only time that the perfect regular season was in jeopardy was on Feb. 1. The Sycamores were 18–0 against New Mexico State. With three seconds remaining, the Sycamores were down 83–81. New Mexico State was at the free throw line and the shot was missed. The missed shot was rebounded by Brad Miley and passed to Bob Heaton. Heaton launched a 50-foot desperation shot which banked through the net to send the game into overtime.[1]

Bird received several honors at the end of regular season. He won the USBWA College Player of the Year, Naismith[2] and Wooden Awards,[3] given to the year's top male college basketball player.


The Sycamores were led by Bird, the NCAA Player of the Year, and his 28.6 scoring average. He was followed by Carl Nicks’ 19.3 average. The starting lineup also included Miley, Alex Gilbert and Steve Reed. Heaton and Leroy Staley were key reserves. The remainder of the roster consisted of Tom Crowder, Eric Curry, Rod McNelly, Rich Nemcek, Bob Ritter and Scott Turner.

  • 5 Bob Ritter
  • 10 Scott Turner
  • 15 Dave McNally
  • 20 Rich Nemcek
  • 22 Carl Nicks
  • 23 Steve Reed
  • 24 Tom Crowder
  • 30 Bob Heaton
  • 32 Eric Curry
  • 33 Larry Bird
  • 40 Brad Miley
  • 42 Alex Gilbert
  • 44 Leroy Staley

NCAA basketball tournament[edit]

The top seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional was awarded to the Sycamores. The final game of the regional tournament was against Arkansas with a berth in the Final Four on the line. With the game tied at 71, the right-handed Heaton was the hero again with a last second left-handed shot in the lane to win the game.[1] They advanced to the championship game and faced Michigan State University, which was led by sophomore Magic Johnson. In what was the most-watched college basketball game ever,[4] Michigan State defeated Indiana State 75–64, and Johnson was voted Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

  • West
    • Indiana State (#1 seed) 86, Virginia Tech (#8 seed) 69
    • Indiana State 93, Oklahoma (#5 seed) 72
    • Indiana State 73, Arkansas (#2 seed) 71



Awards and honors[edit]