INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Thirty years ago this week, Ball State began an improbable NCAA Tournament run that still echos in the memories of the Cardinals who lived through it.
“I always say I wish I could go back and recapture that moment and do it again,” remembers former Cardinals forward Paris McCurdy. “I want another crack at it.”
The Cardinals entered NCAAs as MAC champions, 26-7 on the season, a 12-seed facing future NBA star Gary Payton’s Oregon State Beavers in the first round.
“I think it was just pure joy for us to go out and do what we did,” says former Cardinals forward Chandler Thompson. “A lotta people didn’t think that we could do it. Once we won that first game, we felt like we could win the rest of them.”
That win came down to the final play. Down 53-51, Ball State inbounded the ball to Paris McCurdy, who connected for two while drawing a foul with no time left on the clock. The following free throw sent the Cardinals on to the second round.
“I just went up there, stepped up, and did my normal routine,” explains McCurdy. “I probably didn’t realize the situation to be honest with you.”
Another upset over 4-seed Louisville put the Cardinals into the Sweet 16 against top-ranked UNLV, where we saw perhaps the most famous play in Ball State basketball history, a high-flying putback dunk courtesy of Chandler Thompson.
“It was just a natural play,” Thompson says. “It was something I’ve done before, but it was just on the big stage.”
The Cardinals lost by two to the Runnin’ Rebels, a team that went on to win the National Championship.
“All the other teams were blown out by them,” adds Thompson. “We were the only team that really gave them a battle.”
“It said a lot for us as a team, as a group,” continues McCurdy. “There’s a lot of pride.”
As the memories of a Sweet 16 run come flooding back this week, the Cardinals remember what they’re most grateful for that March 30 years ago.
“All of us,” says McCurdy, “every last player, was playing for the next guy. We wanted to see each other do very well. We had a unified team.”
“There’s so many great things we were able to accomplish that year,” adds Thompson. “The best thing is our friendship has lasted 30 plus years. It’s a brotherhood.”
Brothers that took the tournament by storm — and remain Ball State’s greatest team to this day.