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Today in Sports History: 3/30 – Indiana Beats UNC in 1981 NCAA Championship

Today in sports history (1981), the Indiana Hoosiers beat the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 1981 NCAA Tournament championship. At the time of this game, there were talks about canceling it. This was due in part to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. With Reagan surviving his injuries, the NCAA played the game as scheduled.

The game only featured a seven-minute delay. Much like the championship game after, this game featured two of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, Dean Smith and Bob Knight. NBA legend Isiah Thomas was the star player for Knight’s squad, where he averaged 16 points and 6 assists a game. Al Wood led the way for the Tar Heels, scoring 18.1 points per game.

Isiah Thomas 1981 NCAA Tournament Championship
Credit: Rich Clarkson/SI

Indiana Basketball Wins Fourth NCAA Tournament Championship

The 1981 NCAA Tournament Championship took place in Philadelphia. The last time that Philadelphia hosted the championship was in 1976. Indiana won this championship and was the most recent team to finish a season with an undefeated record. Thomas led the way for the Hoosiers in this game, scoring 23 points. Thomas’ presence was most felt during Indiana’s 12-3 run to open the second half. On the flip side, this was Dean Smith’s third championship game. He had previous losses to UCLA and Marquette in those games. Smith once again went down to Indiana in a 63-50 game.

Leading by one at the half, Thomas had only hit on one of seven field goal attempts. With Thomas’ second-half run, the Hoosiers were able to hold a lead for the majority of the second half. This got built up to a 14-point lead with two and half minutes remaining in the game.

This was Knight’s third championship win. This game helped to prove that Indiana is a powerhouse basketball program. Indiana basketball has since won one championship, coming in 1987.


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