Indianapolis has fond memories for Texas, Mays
It was known as "The Hoosier Dome," then, this RCA Dome in Indianapolis, where Rick Barnes' Longhorns will play in the First and Second Rounds of the 2005 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
And it captured seven of the most precious seconds in Texas Basketball history.
Sixteen years later, the facility has special significance to one of the central figures of the drama. Travis Mays, whose free throws helped the 10th-seeded Longhorns beat No. 2 seed Purdue, has a dual role in March Madness sagas surrounding Indy this year.
First, he hopes Barnes and his young crew can follow in the footsteps of that Longhorn team which charged to the Elite Eight, missing a chance to go to the Final Four when Mays' three-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim against Arkansas. And second, as a first-year assistant coach to Jody Conradt, he's working to help the Longhorn women make it all the way to the Women's Final Four, which will be held in the same building in three weeks.
In a whirlwind of two weeks in 1990, Mays and his teammates took the Longhorns farther than any Texas team had gone in the modern era of basketball. Not since the 1947 squad advanced to the Final Four had a Longhorn team gone as far as the 1990 team would eventually go.
The guard-oriented team, featuring the "Runnin' 'Horns style of coach Tom Penders, became known as "BMW, the ultimate driving machine," a take off on an auto commercial which fit with backcourt players Lance Blanks, Mays and Joey Wright.
Like the 2005 team, that one also came into Indianapolis under the radar of the nation's media. It was making its second straight appearance in the NCAAs, but only the sixth in the previous 20 years.
It had finished third in the Southwest Conference behind Arkansas and Houston, and it entered the NCAAs with a 21-8 record after having been bounced from the SWC Tournament in the second round by the Cougars.
To understand the significance of the trip to Indianapolis, consider this: The appearance was the 10th ever for Texas in the NCAAs, dating back to their first trip in 1939. That's 51 years. Since then, Texas has made 13 trips over the last 15 years.
So it was little wonder that when Texas was paired with No. 7 seed Georgia, few expected much. Penders had delighted Longhorn fans with his running style, which had produced a surprise victory as the No. 11 seed over No. 6 Georgia Tech in 1989. But in a sub-regional which included No. 2 Purdue, No. 3 Georgetown and No. 6 Xavier, as well as Southeastern Conference champion Georgia, the Longhorns were a long shot at best.
But long shots were what Texas did best. In an impressive 100-88 victory over Georgia, Mays would score 44 points, ranking him among the Top 15 for single-game scoring in NCAA Tournament history. He would be tied with legends of the game, including Kansas' Clyde Lovellette, Kentucky's Dan Issel and UCLA's Bill Walton.
His record-setting performance included a remarkable 23-of -27 from the free throw line, both equaling NCAA tourney single-game records that still stand today.
The tournament, however, still belonged to Purdue. Just as No. 1 seed Illinois has a home court advantage this year with its proximity to Indianapolis, so too Purdue was the odds-on favorite to advance to the Midwest Regional in Dallas, where they hoped to challenge for a trip to the Final Four.
The Boilermakers had finished second in the Big Ten to No. 1 seed Michigan State, and Purdue easily dispatched the No. 15 seed Louisiana-Monroe in the opening round.
Texas took an early lead in the game, but Purdue took the lead with 6:31 left in the first half, and held it. Texas did tie the score at 33-33 just before the half, but two Purdue free throws gave the Boilermakers a 35-33 lead at intermission. Near the midway point of the second half, it appeared Purdue was pulling away, as the lead extended to nine points at 56-47. But when Purdue center Stephen Scheffler hit a short jumper to make the score 68-65 with 3:59 remaining, the Boilermakers had scored their last field goal of the game.
Texas finally took a lead when Joey Wright hit a pull up jumper with 2:56 left to make the score 69-68, but 13 seconds later Purdue regained the lead, 70-69, on two free throws. Benford Williams took a feed from Mays for a lay up to make it 71-70, but with 1:47 left, Scheffler hit two free throws for a 71-70 Boilermaker advantage.
And that is how the game stood when, with only seven seconds remaining, Purdue's Jimmy Oliver fouled Mays in the act of shooting.
A crowd of 37,842, the largest for a second-round game in NCAA history, held its collective breath as Mays went to the line.
In the huddle during a Purdue time out, Penders looked and Mays and smiled.
"NBA guards make these," he said.
And Mays, who would become a first round draft choice and go on to play in the NBA, did.
The first of the two rattled in the cylinder, and the second hit nothing but net. Texas, the unlikeliest of Cinderellas, was putting on the glass slipper. The Longhorns led, 73-72, but the game was not over.
For years at Texas, "the block," had been known only to be one which cleared the way for a running back or receiver to score a touchdown in football. In the final seconds of that game in the Hoosier Dome, it would be redefined as something else.
Gene Keady, the respected Purdue coach, designed an out-of-bounds play which included a switch at the baseline. The player who was supposed to in-bound the ball passed it out of bounds behind the baseline to a teammate, who quickly flipped it to Boilermaker guard Tony Jones.
Jones weaved through the Texas defenders, and when nobody fronted him for fear of fouling, he got all the way to the right side of the basket, where he released a bank shot destined for victory. But the ball never banked.
Under the basket, the Longhorns' post man, Guillermo "Panama" Myers, was guarding Purdue's star Scheffler. When Jones broke to the basket, Myers left his man to cover Jones.
"I knew he had great leaping ability, so I knew I had to time him and I got him. I got lucky that he went up sideways for it, because I was really worried about fouling him. When he got by the guards, I was hoping he wouldn't pass to my guy, but I had to gamble. I knew he was going to shoot it by the way he was going to the basket."
Myers pinned the shot against the backboard, his fourth block of the game and his eighth during the two days in the First and Second rounds in Indianapolis.
It was the first time under the present NCAA format that a Texas team had made the "Sweet 16." In Dallas, they would knock off Xavier, which had beaten Georgetown, before finally falling a fraction of an inch and four points shy of going to the Final Four.
Texas is a regular in the NCAAs now, and the Longhorns are only two years removed from their 2003 trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. A lot has changed since that euphoria which Mays and his teammates created in Indianapolis, but some things are similar.
Texas once again is an afterthought in the Big Dance, though Barnes' gallant (if thin) band commands respect for overcoming tough odds. But, this team, just as the 'Horns of 1990, is a difficult team to play, and one not to be taken lightly.
What we know is, it is March, where methods and madness most certainly will create magic moments when folks least expect it.