From Last to First: The Story of The 1967 Indiana Basketball Team
Written By: Bill Murphy
Legendary Coach Branch McCracken had retired at the end of the 1965 season. He would take with him his seven seniors, who had accounted for more than 2,046 points out of the 2,200 points scored in the 64-65 season that would see that team ranked as high as second in the nation in January of that year.
The depletion of such talent would cause the Hoosiers to plummet to share the Big Ten basement with Purdue. This fall to the basement would happen in spite of the heroic efforts of seniors Max Walker and Gary Grieger, who averaged 16.5 and 11.0, respectively. This fall from grace for the Hoosiers and first year head coach Lou Watson would set Indiana and the Big Ten up for a historic 66-67 season.
The 65-66 Hoosiers had finished 8 and 16, but the 66-67 Indiana squad would at least return the second and third leading scorers from the previous season. Juniors Vern Payne (14.2) and Butch Joyner (12.4). Sophomore center Bill DeHeer along with seniors Jack Johnson (8.7) Bill Russell (6.2) and Erv Inniger(4.0) would join the starting six.
December 3 would see Indiana start off the new campaign with a 84 to 71 victory over DePauw led by Joyner's 19 and Payne's 18. Indiana quickly recorded victory number 2 of the young campaign a 77 to 65 win over Missouri again led by Joyner's 22 and Payne's 21. Indiana would play their third straight game in Bloomington only to lose on a last second shot in overtime 91 to 90 against Ohio.
A trip to Manhattan Kansas saw IU lose to K State 82 to 69. Closer to Bloomington in Chicago Indiana would beat Loyola of Chicago 83 to 73 behind Joyner's 26, however Butch had plenty of help as Inniger, Johnson, and Russell each chipped in 14 points apiece. Indiana's annual trip to Fort Wayne to take on Notre Dame which resulted in a 94 to 91 Hoosier win behind Johnson's 18 and Payne and Russell's 16.
Indiana's trip out west resulted in Hoosier victories over Oregon State and Oregon with a loss to Washington sandwiched in between. Thus the Hoosiers entered the Big Ten with a 6 and 3 record.
Indiana would lead by 4 at half only to drop their first Big Ten game 73 to 84. After an absence of 33 days from Bloomington Indiana would host Minnesota and not displaying a Hoosier hospitality beat the Gophers 83 to 68. Going to Columbus, Ohio Indiana slipped past the Buckeyes 81 to 80 behind Joyner's 22 and senior guard Erv Inniger's 19. The Hoosiers would host DePaul after a 16-day layoff for semester break. Indiana behind Sophomore Bill DeHeer's 16 point 10 rebound performance won 72 to 70.
Indiana was now on the road again and beat Minnesota 82 to 81. On February 6, before 7,722 fans Indiana beat Michigan State 82 to 77 as Erv Inniger connected on 12 field goals for 24 points to lead the Hoosiers. On February 11, six Hoosiers scored double figures as Indiana beat Wisconsin 93 to 81. Indiana would drop their 2nd Big Ten game as the Spartans returned the favor 86 to 77. The loss was doubly hard to take as Indiana lost Erv Inniger for the rest of the season. Moving the Columbus Comet Bill Russell into the starting role for the rest of the season.
Russell would respond with 20 and 19 points in wins over Northwestern and Illinois. On February 25th, Indiana would lose their second Big Ten game of the season to Iowa 75 to 74 two days later however Indiana recovered to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor 98 to 96. The Hoosiers trip to Champaign saw Indiana encountered their fourth loss of the Big Ten season 80 to 70. Now Indiana had two games left and two games to win for a share of the Big Ten crown. The two Junior leaders of the team Joyner and Payne accounted for 27 and 23 points as Indiana beat Michigan for the second time on the season 96 to 90.
The last game of the regular season would be played on March 11 in Bloomington against none other then Purdue. The Boilermakers would love nothing more then to knock Indiana from the Big Ten crown. However, Indiana had other ideas and behind Joyner's 22, Russell's 18, Payne and Johnson's 14 with 10 from DeHeer in front of 9,554 fans Indiana captured a share of the Big Ten title 95 to 82, becoming the first Big Ten team ever to go from last to first in one year.
The tie with Michigan State allowed Indiana to go to the NCAA tourney where they would fall 79 to 70 to Virginia Tech. In the 3rd place game at Evanston, Illinois. Indiana defeated Tennessee 51 to 44, as seniors Bill Russell and Jack Johnson scored 10 and 9 points in their final game as Hoosiers. They would finish the season 18 and 8 with their 8th Big Ten title at that time. The year 1967 would be the only year so far that Indiana would win both the Big Ten Championship in both football and basketball in the same year.