College basketball tips off tonight, an occasion that sparks early season memories of preseason NITs and Maui Invitationals and Great Alaska Shootouts past, most especially the night Sherman Douglas and Stephen Thompson did this to Indiana at Madison Square Garden.
It was Nov. 23, 1988, in the semifinals of what was then the Big Apple NIT. ESPN and the writers covering the game billed it as a rematch of the '87 NCAA title game, won by Indiana on Keith Smart's baseline jumper in the waning seconds. But Jim Boeheim, then as now the Syracuse coach, was having none of it. "You can't get even for losing national championship games," Boeheim said flatly. And for all the fanfare of a doubleheader that also included Missouri-North Carolina, only 9,579 showed up at the Garden that night, though today 90,000 Syracuse alums would probably like to claim they were there.
The Orangemen—they were still the Orangemen then—no longer had Rony Seikaly and Howard Triche and Greg Monroe from the '87 NCAA finalists. But they were ranked No. 6 in the country because they still had Douglas and Thompson—a high-flyer who came to snowy Syracuse from sunny L.A.—and a junior named Derrick Coleman. They also had freshman sensation Billy Owens, who nearly outscored the opposing team by himself in the Pennsylvania state championship game as a high school senior. Over in the Indiana huddle, Steve Alford and Smart and Ricky Calloway were long gone, leaving Bob Knight with a group of plodding no-names who were no match this time around for Syracuse's high-wire act.
The play that best epitomized what a mismatch this was—and the one that nearly made Dick Vitale choke on his own catchphrases—was Douglas scooping up a loose ball and tossing it under his legs downcourt to a streaking Thompson. Syracuse would go on to win, 102-78. At the time, it was the most points a Knight-coached Indiana team had allowed in one game.