This day in sports history: Keith Smart ushers in 'One Shining Moment' with iconic shot in 1987 title game

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Indiana's Keith Smart launches the shot that won the 1987 NCAA national championship game for the Hooisers over the Syracuse Orangemen in the Superdome. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
Indiana's Keith Smart launches the shot that won the 1987 NCAA national championship game for the Hooisers over the Syracuse Orangemen in the Superdome. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

The man who surrendered one of the most iconic shots in NCAA tournament history insists he could not have defended the play any better. 

Howard Triche says that he followed Syracuse’s scouting report 33 years ago when he stayed in front of Keith Smart but gave the Indiana guard space to shoot.

It was the closing seconds of a star-laden national title game on March 30, 1987, and Syracuse was on the cusp of making history. The trio of Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly had the Orangemen one defensive stop away from denying Bob Knight his third national title and delivering Jim Boeheim his first. 

Syracuse’s defensive strategy was to force an Indiana player besides All-American Steve Alford to take the potential go-ahead shot. Boeheim called for the Orangemen to play a box-and-1 with Douglas shadowing the sweet-shooting Alford and the other four defenders playing zone.   

When Coleman and Douglas both stuck with Alford as he curled around a Daryl Thomas pick, Smart fed the open Thomas cutting to the rim. Coleman, however, recovered quickly, leaving Thomas little choice but to kick the ball back to Smart on the left wing with just seven seconds left in the game. 

At this point, there was no looking for Alford anymore. Smart needed to make a play against Triche 1-on-1, and he needed to do it quickly. Indiana’s fifth-leading scorer that season drove baseline, pulled up from 18 feet and sank the go-ahead jump shot over Triche’s outstretched arms to give the Hoosiers a 74-73 victory. 

“He wasn’t known as a shooter, so for the most part, we played off of him,” Triche told Yahoo Sports during a 2013 interview. “Obviously, in retrospect, I’d have run out at him and forced him to drive if I had known he was going to make it, but that was the game plan and I think I played it the best I could.”

Keith Smart’s legend grows

Indiana would not have even been in striking distance entering its final possession were it not for Smart’s unexpected heroics. Overshadowed most of the season by his polarizing coach and by Alford’s catch-and-shoot barrages, Smart piled up 17 of his 21 points during the second half against Syracuse culminating with his baseline game-winner.

The performance cemented Smart as an Indiana hero who defied many ironclad stereotypes about Hoosiers players under Knight. Smart was a flashy Baton Rouge-bred, former McDonald’s fry cook who broke his wrist in a motorcycle crash after high school, flipped burgers and waited for his chance while it healed and blossomed into a Big Ten-level prospect in junior college. 

For years, Knight had resisted recruiting junior-college players because of concerns about their academic capabilities and their attitudes. It’s no coincidence he finally became more open-minded in the mid-1980s after other Big Ten teams started beating the Hoosiers by loading up on junior-college talent. 

With Smart and fellow junior-college transfer Dean Garrett bolstering the supporting cast surrounding Alford, Indiana bounced back from back-to-back disappointing seasons to share the 1987 Big Ten title with Purdue. The top-seeded Hoosiers then survived close call after close call in the NCAA tournament, ousting Duke, LSU, UNLV and Syracuse by a combined 12 points.

Syracuse's Rony Selkaly (4) and Indiana guard Keith Smart (23), Indiana forward/center Daryl Thomas (24) during the 1987 NCAA men's basketball championship game held at the Louisiana Superdome. Smart was named MVP for the tournament. (Photo by Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images.)
Syracuse's Rony Selkaly (4) and Indiana guard Keith Smart (23), Indiana forward/center Daryl Thomas (24) during the 1987 NCAA men's basketball championship game held at the Louisiana Superdome. Smart was named MVP for the tournament. (Photo by Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images.)

‘One Shining Moment’ debuts

Indiana’s championship coincided with the debut of a cheesy song that has since become as synonymous with the NCAA tournament as upsets and buzzer beaters. The first edition of “One Shining Moment” aired after the 1987 title game and is littered with clips of Smart and his Hoosiers teammates. 

CBS’ original plan was to play "One Shining Moment" over a highlight montage at the end of the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and New York Giants in January 1987, but the song got scrapped after the broadcast ran long. Songwriter David Barrett figured he’d missed his chance at national exposure until a CBS executive called a few weeks later and assured him the network would air it after the college basketball’s title game instead.

In a 2012 Yahoo Sports story commemorating the 25th anniversary of the song, Barrett said that his inspiration was a clumsy pick-up attempt.

When Barrett tried to start a conversation with a waitress at a bar in spring 1986, the only subject the folk singer could think to talk about were the Boston Celtics highlights airing on TV. Describing the dominance of Larry Bird at the pinnacle of his career not surprisingly failed to land Barrett a date but it did lead him to scribble down the lyrics for “One Shining Moment” the next morning. 

“It was written for basketball, and it was almost as if the song had a mind of its own,” Barrett said.

Syracuse’s blunders down the stretch

It might have been Syracuse immortalized on that first edition of “One Shining Moment” were it not for a few critical blunders in the final minute of the 1987 title game. Chief among them was Coleman barely grazing iron on the front end of a 1-and-1 with 28.8 seconds left and Syracuse up one, leaving the door open for Indiana on its final possession. 

Syracuse also still would have had four seconds left to craft a rebuttal after Smart’s shot had the Orangemen quickly called timeout. Inexplicably, three seconds instead ran off the clock before referees granted a timeout, leaving time only for a length-of-the-floor baseball pass.

Something the Orangemen did do correctly was how they defended Indiana on the game’s decisive possession. They kept the ball out of Alford’s hands, recovered quickly to Thomas and forced Smart into hoisting a jump shot instead of attacking the rim. 

“The shock of that shot stayed with us a long time,” Triche said in 2013. “When I rewatch the game, I always think one day we’re going to win it but we never do.”

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