The 1981 Men’s Basketball Final — Indiana vs North Carolina


By Ron Griffitts

Contributing columnist

On March 30, 1981 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Indiana Hoosiers (25-9) coached by Bobby Knight met the North Carolina Tar Heels (29-7) coached by Dean Smith. It was a game between two of the best college basketball coaches of all time.

Indiana got past Maryland 89-64, UAB 87-72, and St. Joseph’s 78-46 to get to the Final Four where they defeated LSU 67-49 to get to the final. They were led by 6’ 1” sophomore guard Isiah Thomas (16.0 ppg, 5.8 apg), 6’ 9” senior Ray Tolbert (12, 2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and 6’ 6” sophomore guard Randy Wittman (10.4 ppg).

North Carolina defeated Pitt 74-57, Utah 61-56 and Kansas State 82-68 to get the Final Four where they eliminated Virginia 78-65 to get to the final. They were led by 6’ 6” senior guard Al Wood (18.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6’ 9” freshman Sam Perkins (14.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg), 6’ 9” sophomore James Worthy (14.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and 6’ 3” junior guard Jimmy Black (5.1 apg).

The game was close in the first half with Indiana holding a 27-26 halftime lead but the Hoosiers pulled away from the Tar Heels in the second half outscoring them 36-24 for a 63-50 win.

Isiah Thomas led Indiana with 23 points, 5 assists and 4 steals while playing all 40 minutes of the game. Randy Wittman contributed 16 points, Ray Tolbert had 11 rebounds and Landon Turner had 12 points to lead Indiana who made 23 of 48 field goal attempts for a 47.9%.

Al Wood with 14 points and Sam Perkins with 11 led the Tar Heels as James Worthy, later to be an all-star with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA, was held to 3 of 11 from the field for 7 points. The Tar Heels made 20 of 47 attempts from the field for 42.9 %. At the free throw line Indiana made 7 more free throws than North Carolina.

Isiah Thomas got the game MVP and went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons.

Bobby Knight spent 42 years as a college coach compiling a 1273-899 record and winning three NCAA championships. He won an NCAA title as a player with Ohio State in 1960 and with his three years as a player and two as an assistant at Army together with his years as a head coach spent 47 years in college basketball.

Dean Smith coached at North Carolina for 36 years where he won two NCAA titles, had an 1133-879 record and also played on an NCAA title winning team at Kansas in 1952. He was an assistant at Kansas for one year, at the Air Force Academy for three years and at North Carolina for three years which together with his three years as a player at Kansas and his 36 years as a head coach gave him 46 years of experience in college basketball.

Statistics for this article were from and

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