Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of Kent Benson’s unlikely tip-in against Michigan that saved the 1976 Indiana University basketball team’s perfect season.
Benson was a star center for the Hoosiers, who went on to defeat Michigan in the NCAA Championship Game.
Daily Journal sports columnist Bob Johnson talked with Benson, who co-owns Vendor Risk Management with former IU teammate Bobby Wilkerson, about his memories of that moment and life after basketball.
Q: Kent, that Michigan game was a contest in which the Hoosiers really had to dig deep against a very good opponent. Describe the atmosphere on the court that day.
A: Going into the game, we knew Michigan was a tough opponent. We came out ready to play. Everybody gave us their best shot. One of the things that coach (Bob) Knight taught us was that it’s not over until it’s over.
We never thought about losing. Coach had always prepared us for end-of-game situations. This was an opportunity to do that.
Q: Of course, the game came down to your shot, which was the result of a rather unlikely series of events. Take us back to that moment.
A: Everybody knew the ball was going to (All-American) Scott May for that last play, but it didn’t. Quinn (Buckner) got the ball up. Jim Crews made the great play in that situation to get the ball up toward the basket before it came down. He knew he didn’t have time.
I was in the right place at the right time, where I was supposed to be. The ball came to me and I tipped it in. It was controlled. I knew exactly what I was doing. Coach Knight taught us to keep the clock in our head.
Q: Looking back on that perfect season 40 years later, new fans may overlook the number of close games that IU had — the Kentucky double overtime, Alabama Regional and a number of Big Ten contests. Why was this team able to overcome obstacles each time to win?
A: Number one, we were always prepared. We listened to our coach and executed. That is so very important. We knew that everyone we played would give us their best shot.
Coach Knight always taught us that the mental is to the physical as four is to one. It was very important that we were physically prepared, but we were mentally prepared, too.
Q: Records are made to broken, but this one has endured for 40 years and will survive again this year. Are you surprised?
A: I wouldn’t say surprised, but honored and humbled by it all. When we came into the locker room at halftime of the (NCAA) championship game, we were down by six. Coach knew that we needed to know that Bobby was OK. (Bobby Wilkerson had been knocked unconscious in the first half and carried off the floor.) He told us that.
Coach then said, “Boys, in the next 20 minutes, you have an opportunity to make history.” Coach knew from the makeup of our team, that was what we needed to hear. We were different from everyone else. He was prophetic, not knowing at the time that 40 years later we would be the last undefeated national championship team.
Q: In what you are doing today (in business), that preparation learned must still play a role.
A: Absolutely. The foundation that Bobby and I had with our high school coaches was set a long time ago. It was in the approach to the game. That carried on and was perfected with coach Knight. The situations he put us through prepared us for life after basketball.
Bobby and I have put together a company that puts together subject matter experts that allow us to bring to clients that expertise. We’ve been able to take what we’ve learned and apply it with a talented team.
Q: Of your many accomplishments, one of the most memorable to me is your selection as Fellowship of Christian Athletes high school and college player of the year. Reflect on the challenges of stepping out in your faith as a young athlete.
A: It started with the foundation that my parents set for me as a kid through their example of faith. I have to add also the role played by friends and supporters at New Castle. They took an interest in me as a basketball player and as a person.
I was blessed to have people who held me accountable. FCA helped me understand my God-given talents. I wasn’t advertising it, but just giving honor to God for what He had given me. I was able to build on that foundation. I just wanted to do the best I could do. That is what excellence is all about, being the very best you can be and using your God-given talents.