Rivalry Breakdown: Indiana-Purdue
No state is more synonymous with basketball than Indiana, so it’s only fitting that one of the college game’s best rivalries features Indiana University and its neighbors at Purdue. Separated by just over 100 miles, the two Big Ten stalwarts have mined the state’s prodigious high school talent for many of their most revered stars.
Among those icons is Hoosier guard Steve Alford, who led the 1986-87 IU squad to a national title. That Indiana team only suffered four losses for the entire season, but one of them came in West Lafayette in one of the best-played games in the century-long history of the series.
Read on to find out how Alford figured in that defeat, along with all the rest of the stars, games and moments that have defined the Big Ten’s greatest rivalry.
Wins: Indiana 88, Purdue 113
Conference Championships (regular season only): Indiana 21, Purdue 22
NCAA Tournament Championships: Indiana 5, Purdue 0
Consensus All-Americans (first team): Indiana 13, Purdue 17
NBA Players Produced: Indiana 55, Purdue 33
Indiana’s All-Time Starting 5
C Walt Bellamy
PF Scott May
SF Calbert Cheaney
SG Steve Alford
PG Isiah Thomas
Bellamy, though he missed out on the best of the Hoosiers’ team success, was a Hall of Famer who averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds a game for his career. May, the Naismith Award winner for the undefeated 1976 champs, narrowly beats out super-scorer George McGinnis (mostly because the latter only played one year of varsity ball).
Speaking of scoring, Cheaney and Alford both went from schoolboy phenoms to Hoosier heroes, landing at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on IU’s points list. Alford also added a national title to his resume in 1987, just as the ultra-quick Thomas had done six years before.
Purdue’s All-Time Starting 5
C Joe Barry Carroll
PF Glenn Robinson
SF Terry Dischinger
SG Rick Mount
PG Brian Walker
Carroll is a gimme here, the school record holder for rebounds and second all time in points. Robinson, meanwhile, is the only Boilermaker to earn national Player of the Year honors, sweeping the Naismith and Wooden Awards as a junior.
Dischinger, a 28-point-per-game scorer, also averaged better than 13 rebounds a night at just 6’7”. Walker was a pure distributor who ran the offense for the 1980 Final Four squad en route to a school record for steals (and second place in assists).
Mount, on the other hand, finished with a school-record 2,323 career points. He took the 1969 Boilermakers to the title game (in the program’s first-ever March Madness appearance) before falling to UCLA and the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Most Iconic Coaches
Even the legendary Branch McCracken becomes a runner-up in the annals of IU coaching, thanks to Bobby Knight. One of the most polarizing figures in the history of any sport, The General—whose 902 victories are still good for third all time in Division I—won three national titles for the Hoosiers, starting with the last undefeated season ever played (1975-76).
Gene Keady’s legacy is still going strong at Purdue, where anointed successor Matt Painter is running the show with the same dedication to defensive toughness that Keady displayed. With 265 wins in Big Ten play, Keady is second all time (trailing only Knight), and his 512 total wins are a Purdue record by a wide margin.
Note that while coaching legend John Wooden won All-America honors as a player at Purdue, he never coached a Boilermakers team.
Most Memorable Games
5. 1981: Indiana 69, Purdue 61
Gene Keady’s first game against the Hoosiers gave him a harsh introduction to the realities of the series. Not only did IU extend the Boilermakers’ three-game losing skid with a win in Bloomington, but Hoosiers star Isiah Thomas (the leader of that year’s national title run) came to blows with the Boilermakers’ Roosevelt Barnes in an incident that didn’t result in a single foul being called either way.
4. 1987: Purdue 75, Indiana 64
The peak of the rivalry as far as the AP polls were concerned, 1987 saw both teams ranked in the Top 10 for both games. No. 3 Indiana was headed to another national title, but the sixth-ranked Boilermakers still held serve at home by limiting the great Steve Alford to one point in the first half.
3. 1980 Sweet 16: Purdue 76, Indiana 69
The only time these two foes have met in NCAA tournament action came with Purdue holding a sixth seed to IU’s No. 2 seed. Despite 30 points from Isiah Thomas, the favorites couldn’t overcome a massive Purdue edge at the foul line (32 free throws made versus 13), as Drake Morris and Keith Edmondson scored 20 points apiece for the Boilermakers.
2. 2005: Indiana 75, Purdue 73
Neither IU nor Purdue was ranked for Gene Keady’s final home game in the series, but the intensity was as high as ever, with Indiana getting a last-minute three-point play from Marshall Strickland to force overtime. In the OT, questionable officiating on both ends couldn’t eclipse the clutch play of Strickland (whose foul shots gave the Hoosiers a lead with less than a second to go) and Carl Landry (who then fielded a full-court pass and tied it up again).
A David Teague trey for Purdue nearly set up another photo finish in the second OT, but Brandon McKnight’s bid for a miracle game-winner came up empty, and the Hoosiers escaped with a rare win over Keady at Mackey Arena.
1. 1979 NIT Final: Indiana 53, Purdue 52
It may have been “only” the NIT, but a national-level championship was still on the line for the only time in series history. The game measured up to the stakes, with Indiana’s Ray Tolbert (on his way to co-MVP honors for the tourney) refusing, as usual, to back down against Purdue star Joe Barry Carroll.
With both defenses in control, neither team could open up a lead with any breathing room. That proved to be the Boilermakers’ downfall, when, with six seconds left on the game clock, Butch Carter earned his half of the co-MVP recognition by nailing the game-winning jumper from the top of the key.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to an Indiana Fan
Getting swept in the season series by Purdue is painful enough for the Hoosiers. Getting swept because of an overtime loss to an unranked Boilermakers squad in Bloomington is an entirely new level of awful.
That was the scenario in 1990, when the No. 13 Hoosiers—featuring freshman Calbert Cheaney—began a 6-10 downward spiral by falling to Steve Scheffler-led Purdue at Assembly Hall.
The Boilermakers’ Ryan Berning tied the game with 35 seconds remaining to force the extra period, and top scorer Tony Jones put them ahead early in OT for an 81-79 win.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Purdue Fan
Although Indiana was defending a national title in 1987-88, the slumping Hoosiers had fallen from the rankings entirely by the time the Boilermakers headed to Bloomington in late January.
Purdue, meanwhile, was ranked a school-record No. 2 in the AP poll behind a deep Troy Lewis-led offense.
Despite an ugly 10-6 record, Dean Garrett and the Hoosiers were ready for the challenge.
The 6’10” Garrett, who destroyed the smaller Purdue front line with 31 points and 10 rebounds, also nailed the decisive jumper with five seconds left in what ended up being an 82-79 win.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Indiana
Against any other opponent, Purdue sniper Chad Austin was already a dangerous long-range shooter. Against the Hoosiers, he became a time bomb.
When IU hosted Purdue in 1996, the sophomore buried a trey with 13.7 seconds left to play, sending the home team to a 74-72 defeat.
The following year, Indiana’s A.J. Guyton reached 31 points by nailing what should have been a game-saving three-ball late in overtime.
However, with a scant 0.6 seconds remaining, Austin nailed another clutch three-pointer to give Purdue its fourth straight win in the series.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Purdue
Among coach Bobby Knight’s more notable jabs at his archrivals was a 1981 incident in which he brought a donkey dressed in a Purdue cap onto his TV show that was purportedly there “to represent Purdue’s point of view.”
Even that, however, can’t compare to the memory of the 1985 game in Bloomington.
Knight, fed up both with his team’s poor performance and with officiating he felt was unfairly against the Hoosiers, had already been T'd up for berating the referees. The Boilermakers’ Steve Reid stepped to the line to shoot the free throws.
Before Reid could take his first shot, though, Knight picked up one of the plastic chairs used by the IU bench players and flung it across the floor, where it skidded to a stop in front of the wheelchair seating section on the baseline.
Indiana lost the game. Knight lost an enormous amount of the respect his two national championships (at that time) had cultivated with non-Hoosiers fans.
Indiana's Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
To say that Indiana has outperformed Purdue in NCAA tournament play would be a gross understatement.
The Boilermakers have played in the Final Four just twice in tournament history. Indiana has won five national championships—among them, the 1953 title earned by coach Branch McCracken's squad—in the same span of time.
The closest Purdue has come to any kind of national preeminence is a No. 2 ranking in the AP polls (achieved in just two seasons) and a lone NIT crown in 1974. Both are poor substitutes for the Hoosiers’ wealth of NCAA titles.
Purdue's Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
In a series with 114 years' worth of history, both sides are bound to have had their streaks and slumps. When it comes to overall performance, though, the Boilermakers have a remarkably convincing edge.
In 201 all-time meetings, the Boilermakers hold a win-loss advantage of 113 victories (five of them featuring superstar guard Rick Mount, who never lost to the Hoosiers) against just 88 defeats.
With the Big Ten’s refusal to preserve home-and-home rivalries in its schedule (and thus guaranteed only four meetings every three years), the Hoosiers would need to win every game until 2033 just to get to .500.
The Final Word
With so much of Purdue’s success having come in the pre-NCAA tournament era, most fans outside the Big Ten don’t realize how strong a program the Boilermakers have been throughout their history. Indiana fans, unfortunately, don’t have any choice.
Although the Hoosiers have done more winning on a national scale, they can’t stack up to their No. 1 nemesis on the court or in the standings.
Between their slim lead in conference titles (22-21) and their dramatic one in the win-loss column (113-88), the Boilermakers still have the best of this rivalry.