Indiana vs. Purdue. No Old Oaken Bucket on the line Saturday. This is basketball; they throw traditions at each other like they throw forearms.
Really, how many other famous rivalries out there can claim a chair hurtling across the basketball court as one of its landmark moments? Since few of the 215 previous meetings had the buzz Saturday will when the No. 1 Boilermakers show up in Bloomington, time for a crash course on this ancient feud.
The Boilermakers have never played the Hoosiers as a top-ranked team. Or from Indiana’s perspective, the Hoosiers have never had the chance to experience the blessed joy of evicting Purdue from the top spot. If that happens Saturday, care to guess what the post-game court will look like? Go back to last season when Indiana took down the No. 4 Boilermakers 68-65 to break a nine-game losing streak in the series. It seemed half the student body came pouring out of the stands. "Anytime you can beat Purdue — and they feel the same about us, and it’s been a while since we’ve beaten them — it’s special," Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said that day.
By the way, Indiana’s winning shot was delivered by reserve Rob Phinisee, who went to high school seven miles from the Purdue campus. He scored 20 points in that game, and 92 the rest of the season.
One thing that makes this meeting compelling is High Noon in the paint. Emphasis on high. There’s 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, the favorite for national player of the year who just torched Tom Izzo’s Michigan State defense for 38 points. And there’s the guy who ain’t far behind Edey — even if seven inches shorter — in Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. He had a recent three-game stretch when he went for 35, 31 and 25 points, and added 21 rebounds against Minnesota. The Hoosiers were beaten at Maryland on Tuesday but he still had 18 points and 20 rebounds.
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Purdue has soooo many claims to bragging rights in this uneasy relationship. The Boilermakers have won more Big Ten season titles (24-22), can count more consensus All-Americans (28-16) and more Big Ten Coach of the Year awards (11-4). They’ve won the Big Ten tournament, which Indiana has never done. Also, they own a healthy 125-90 lead in the series, having dominated 13-2 the past nine seasons.
But... but... but...
Five national championship banners hang in Assembly Hall, none in Mackey Arena. Purdue hasn't seen a Final Four in 43 years, Indiana has been to four since then. Boilermaker fans are not fond of this March gap as a topic of discussion. They’d rather talk about which school put more men on the moon, with Neil Armstrong being a Purdue man.
This is not Bob Knight vs. Gene Keady anymore. That was a terrific chapter of this series and Keady owns what few other coaches do — a winning record against Knight, though barely at 21-20, a record reflecting the drama of their rivalry. What the two camps have now is very much a sequel. Woodson played for Knight, Purdue coach Matt Painter played for Keady. The beat goes on, though Woodson won’t be bringing a donkey in a Purdue cap on a TV show like Knight once did.
It is Feb. 23, 1985. The game is barely five minutes old when Knight, enraged at a flurry of fouls on Indiana, is whistled for a technical. That only makes him madder. As Purdue’s Steve Reid prepares to shoot the technical free throw, Knight grabs a chair and...
You probably know the rest. The chair was next seen careening by Reid, as Assembly Hall roared and the rest of the sport gasped.
36 years ago today, Indiana coach Bob Knight infamously throws a chair across the court. #TodayInSports #NCAAB 🪑 🏀— TodayInSports (@TodayInSportsCo) February 23, 2021
The Boilermakers won 72-63 but that wasn’t much in the conversation afterward, though Keady tried. “The most important thing I’d like to tell you is that our victory is the main headline,” he said to the media afterward. “I hope you get my drift because my kids deserve that."
There have been lots of memorable games without flying chairs. The 1980 Sweet 16 in Lexington, for instance, as the only time they’ve met in the NCAA tournament. The No. 2 seed Hoosiers were upset 76-69 by the No. 6 seed Boilermakers, who eventually landed in the Final Four. Their last Final Four, incidentally.
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Scoring 14 points for Indiana that night was the guy who had returned from mid-season back surgery with such force, he was named Big Ten most valuable player after appearing in only six league games: Mike Woodson. The Final Four was scheduled for his hometown of Indianapolis in 1980, with the championship game played on his 22nd birthday. What a fairy tale that would be. But then Purdue ruined it.
"I didn’t have much left in the tank. Physically I knew I was running on fumes," he said recently of the loss. "If I could have something back (from my college career) it would be that game.
"To go out that way is tough. It’s Purdue."
Painter’s last game against Indiana was also a loss, 93-78 in Bloomington in 1993. He scored 13 points.
One other meeting goes high on the not-to-be-forgotten list. While Larry Bird and Indiana State were on a collision course with Magic Johnson and Michigan State at the 1979 Final Four, the NIT championship game in midtown Manhattan was played between two teams from Indiana. The Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 53-52 on a jumper in the last six seconds by Butch Carter, the only points either team scored in the final 6:30.
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While Purdue has the recent ghost of Rob Phinisee, Indiana has the more distant specter of a heartbreaker named Chad Austin. His corner 3-pointer with 13.7 seconds left beat the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall in 1996. A year later, his shot from the other corner with 0.6 seconds left beat them again.
Indiana’s golden age was the mid-1970s when the Hoosiers went 56-0 over two regular seasons. Forty-four of those 56 games were won by double digits. But three of the victories over Purdue were by one, three and four points.
Indiana was No. 1 in all those games. Nearly a half-century later, the role is reversed, as Purdue becomes acclimated to life as a top-ranked target. Painter spoke about that ongoing process just this week.
"You’ve got to show some discipline and not listen to what people say, because success messes with you more than failure," he said. "If you can take that noise and take that rhetoric out of your thinking and just worry about what people say in your locker room you’re going to be more successful, you’re going to have that good head space and you’re going to have more fun. If you're always trying to please people that really don’t exist and you don’t know, that gets to be really hard."
The message he put on the chalkboard last weekend before he sent the Boilermakers out to beat Michigan State in Mackey Arena: Give the fans something to cheer about, but have fun with it.
It’ll be an army of fans in Indiana red doing the cheering Saturday, and none of it is friendly toward the No. 1 team in the nation. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall will sound like a launching pad at Cape Canaveral. As Woodson said, it’s Purdue.