Indiana State's Larry Bird (33) gives a helping hand to a fallen Magic Johnson, of Michigan State, during the final game of the NCAA men's basketball championship in Salt Lake City, in this March 26, 1979 photo. (AP Photo/File)
The second semifinal was a classic. No. 1 Indiana State had gone unbeaten through the Missouri Valley Conference playing under Bill Hodges, who’d begun the school year as an assistant but was bumped up after head coach Bob King suffered a heart attack and brain aneurysm in October. The unbeaten Sycamores had fought the how-good-are-they-really battle for two months, and they’d made it to Salt Lake via a breathless victory over Arkansas in the Midwest Regional. Waiting was DePaul, which upset UCLA in the West final — held in Provo; for one shining March, Utah was the center of the hoops universe — behind freshman Mark Aguirre.
Bird nearly had a quadruple double against the Blue Demons — 35 points on 16-of-19 shooting, 16 rebounds, nine assists and 11 turnovers. (He was dealing with a sore thumb.) Bob Heaton, a right-handed sub whose left-handed shot from the lane had beaten Arkansas, put Indiana State ahead with a layup in the final minute. Aguirre missed at the end. Indiana State was 33-0. If that was the semi, how good would a final against Magic Johnson be?
NBC’s Monday night telecast began with a song from Bob Fosse’s “Pippin.” Its title: “Magic To Do.” Magic Johnson did his bit, finishing with 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists. (Also six turnovers. Ball security wasn’t a priority that long weekend.) Kelser dunked five times. The Spartans led by nine at the half and 11 at the end. Bird missed 14 of 21 shots and had nearly as many turnovers (six) as baskets (seven). The grand confrontation was less than grand. He and Magic would, however, meet many more times. Just not as collegians.
As for Hodges: He wouldn’t work another NCAA tournament game. He lasted three more seasons at Indiana State. By 1986, he was coaching Georgia College, an NAIA school in Milledgeville. He took the Mercer job in 1991. He spent six seasons in Macon, going 62-107. Speaking last year of 1979, Hodges told Mike Lopresti of NCAA.com: “It went downhill from there.”
No. 10: 1979
No. 9: 1991