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 No. 1
AP No. 1
1978–79 record 33–1 (16–0 MVC)
Head coach Bill Hodges
Home arena Hulman Center

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 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 - Guard (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • 10 Scott Turner - F (Bedford, Indiana)
  • 15 Rod McNelly - G (Speedway, Indiana)
  • 20 Rich Nemcek - G/F (Hammond, Indiana)
  • 22 Carl Nicks - G (Chicago, Illinois)
  • 23 Steve Reed - G (Warsaw, Indiana)
  • 24 Tom Crowder - F (Cayuga, Indiana)
  • 30 Bob Heaton - G/F (Clay City, Indiana)
  • 32 Eric Curry - C/F (Chicago, Illinois)
  • 33 Larry Bird - F (French Lick, Indiana)
  • 40 Brad Miley - F (Rushville, Indiana)
  • 42 Alex Gilbert - C/F (East St Louis, Illinois)
  • 44 Leroy Staley - G/F (Tampa, Florida)
No. Name Position Ht. Year Hometown
5 Bob Ritter G 6–3 Jr. Indianapolis, Indiana
10 Scott Turner F 6–6 Fr. Bedford, Indiana
15 Rod McNelly G 6–2 Fr. Speedway, Indiana
20 Rich Nemcek G 6–6 Jr. Hammond, Indiana
22 Carl Nicks G 6–1 Jr. Chicago, Illinois
23 Steve Reed G 6–3 So. Warsaw, Indiana
24 Tom Crowder F 6–5 Sr. Cayuga, Indiana
30 Bob Heaton F 6–5 Jr. Clay City, Indiana
32 Eric Curry C 6–9 Jr. Chicago, Illinois
33 Larry Bird C 6–9 Sr. French Lick, Indiana
40 Brad Miley F 6–8 Jr. Rushville, Indiana
42 Alex Gilbert F 6–8 Jr. East St Louis, Illinois
44 Leroy Staley F 6–5 Sr. Tampa, Florida

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



Schedule and results[edit]

Time, TV
Rank# Opponent# Result Record Site
City, State
Regular Season
Lawrence College W 99-56  1-0
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
at Purdue W 63-53  2-0
Mackey Arena 
West Lafayette, Indiana
at Evansville W 74-70  3-0
Roberts Municipal Stadium 
Evansville, Indiana
Illinois State W 78-76  4-0
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
vs. East Carolina
Hatter Classic
W 102-79  5-0
Edmunds Center 
Deland, Florida
vs. Cleveland State
Hatter Classic
W 102-71  6-0
Edmunds Center 
Deland, Florida
No. 20 at Ball State W 93-85  7-0
Irving Gymnasium 
Muncie, Indiana
No. 20 Butler W 109-71  8-0
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 11 Morris Harvey W 99-63  9-0
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 11 Tulsa W 101-89  10-0 (1-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 11 West Texas State W 98-77  11-0 (2-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 9 North Carolina A&T W 83-64  12-0 (2-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 9 Bradley W 93-74  13-0 (3-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 9 New Mexico State W 73-69  14-0 (4-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 5 at Wichita State W 94-84  15-0 (5-0)
Levitt Arena 
Wichita, Kansas
No. 5 at Creighton W 90-80  16-0 (6-0)
Omaha Civic Auditorium 
Omaha, Nebraska
No. 5 Southern Illinois W 88-79  17-0 (7-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 3 Creighton W 77-69  18-0 (8-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 2 at New Mexico State W 91-89 OT 19-0 (9-0)
Pan American Center 
Las Cruces, New Mexico
No. 2 at Tulsa W 66-56  20-0 (10-0)
Tulsa Convention Center 
Tulsa, Oklahoma
No. 2 Drake W 100-79  21-0 (11-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 2 at Bradley W 91-72  22-0 (12-0)
Robertson Memorial Field House 
Peoria, Illinois
No. 2 West Texas State W 100-75  23-0 (13-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 1 at Southern Illinois W 69-68  24-0 (14-0)
SIU Arena 
Carbondale, Illinois
No. 1 at Drake W 76-68  25-0 (15-0)
Veterans Memorial Auditorium 
Des Moines, Iowa
No. 1 Wichita State W 109-84  26-0 (16-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
1979 Missouri Valley Conference Men's Basketball Tournament
No. 1 West Texas State
MVC Tournament
W 94-84  27-0 (16-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 1 Southern Illinois
MVC Tournament
W 79-72  28-0 (16-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
No. 1 New Mexico State
MVC Tournament
W 74-69  29-0 (16-0)
Hulman Center 
Terre Haute, Indiana
1979 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament
No. 1 vs. Virginia Tech(8)
NCAA Second Round
W 86-69  30-0 (16-0)
Allen Fieldhouse 
Lawrence, Kansas
No. 1 vs. No. 16 Oklahoma(5)
NCAA Regional Semifinal
W 93-72  31-0 (16-0)
Allen Fieldhouse 
Lawrence, Kansas
No. 1 vs. No. 5 Arkansas(2)
NCAA Regional Final
W 73-71  32-0 (16-0)
Riverfront Coliseum 
Cincinnati, Ohio
No. 1 vs. No. 6 DePaul(2)
NCAA Final Four
W 76-74  33-0 (16-0)
Special Events Center 
Salt Lake City, Utah
No. 1 vs. No. 3 Michigan State(2)
NCAA National Championship
L 64-75  33-1 (16-0)
Special Events Center 
Salt Lake City, Utah
*Non-conference game. #Rankings from AP Poll. (#) Tournament seedings in parentheses.

Awards and honors[edit]