Indy's crew cuts down Temple in throwback to '50s

March 21, 1994|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- It was "Whiffle ball" at its finest: two, three, sometimes as many as four kids sporting crew cuts and hailing from small-town America -- Heltonville, Terre Haute and Floyds Knobs -- tossing up three-point shots that often as not went down.

That's Indiana basketball, a bunch of deadeyes from hoops-tacked-to-the-side-of-barns country who play tough man-to-man defense, pitted against the big city version of the game as practiced by Temple.

It was Bob Knight of the Hoosiers matching wits with John Chaney of the Owls, the coaches who have grabbed the headlines from their teams this season, not necessarily by design in Chaney's case.

But, as Temple's top gun, Aaron McKie, pointed out beforehand, "The coaches aren't going to be on the floor playing. It's going to be us."

And it was, thankfully. For long stretches during Indiana's

eventual 67-58 victory, the score moved along as if it were a football game with the field goal (Indy's treys) dominating. There were less than three minutes remaining in the first half when the Owls arrived at the 20-point mark. The Hoosiers had gotten there only a couple of minutes before.

It was Hoops, circa 1950, and Damon Bailey, Todd Leary and Brian Evans certainly were coiffed for the occasion. The only thing missing was the two-hand set and leather knee guards that buckle in the back. Does that sound boring -- suffocating defense, missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls? Actually, it wasn't.

"It was," decreed Knight, "a game you love to prepare for and play. Two teams playing hard, competing and with not one 'incident,' something you [the press] won't write about because it's far too positive."

(Time out: Here it should be explained that no matter what the general tone of the postgame explanation and excuse session, Knight has to unload a zinger at his captive target, the media.)

"We came out looking to shut off [Alan] Henderson and Bailey, and we did a good job of it," said Temple's floor leader, McKie. "It was the guys we wanted to shoot the ball who hurt us." Especially Evans, who was 3-for-3 from 20 feet or more while leading his club in rebounds and assists in the first half. Not bad for a forward usually found out on the wing.

"Coming into the game, our coaches let us know beforehand where we were going to get our shots from on the perimeter," said Indy's 6-8 sophomore marksman. "Our guards did a good job of penetrating and dishing to us in the open areas of Temple's zone."

Asked to provide a little more detail on how his team was able to beat the ornery match-up zone of the Owls and get such open outside shots, which they converted at a 50 percent rate (10-for-20), Knight, ever the charmer, pooh-poohed his role: "I've been coaching this game for 45 or 50 years; I should be able to figure something out.

"We looked at Temple's inside defense and figured we weren't going to get much in there, so we set up to shoot threes from the beginning. Despite this game and the fact we won the national title in '87 with it, I don't like the three-point rule any better now than when it came in."

He's a tough guy to please, the man in the bulging red sweater who now has a couple of days to prepare his team for Boston College, which upset North Carolina, 75-72, in the second game of yesterday's USAir Arena doubleheader.

Seven minutes into the second half, the teams were square at 36 when McKie hit a couple of foul shots. The Owls weren't able to keep pace, however, as McKie and Eddie Jones are the only players who resemble scorers on the team, and the former was having one of those days, shooting 7-for-24.

There were stretches, in fact, when it would have been sporting if Temple had been given a point for hitting the rim with its shots.

A trio of trifectas and a 12-footer by Leary were the big noises in the stretch run of the Hoosiers. It was solid vindication for the senior who was a high school teammate of Eric Montross of North Carolina. Leary hit intermission with just two points, no assists and three turnovers.

"He wasn't handling the ball very well," Knight said, "so I had to sit him down."

After Chaney had explained a few times what a "great pleasure it was going against a master of this game [Knight]," he added that, "All along, everyone in the country has known that three guards carried this team. It's unbelievable that three guys won 23 games for us."

Which didn't say a whole lot for the players who had provided the Owls with their true strength all along, defense.

* Doctors examined and X-rayed Indiana freshman guard Sherron Wilkerson, who broke his leg in the second half, and determined he has a spiral tibia fracture.

"We'll take him back home, and they'll do some surgery on it, probably tomorrow," Knight said.

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