Babe Turns State Around

Ireland Turns Loyola Around

MSU Sneaks Out of the State

MSU's First NCAA Game

A Memorable NCAA Final

Drake's Best in 39 Years


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Basketball Snapshots - 7

This is the first in a sequence of four related Snapshots.

Mississippi State F Bailey Howell
Bailey Howell
Babe Turns State Around
Mississippi State basketball changed from a joke to SEC contender after the arrival of James Harrison (Babe) McCarthy as coach in 1955. Basketball was so lightly regarded at MSU that, as the story is told, an assistant football coach was once ordered to coach the basketball team at a reduced salary. (The school had gone 31-15 in basketball in 1925-27 under football coach Bernie Bierman.)

McCarthy set about recruiting the best players in the area.

  • Of course, he faced a major limitation: he could offer scholarships only to white players. Mississippi, like its sister states in the Deep South, practiced strict racial segregation.
  • Babe did recruit an exceptional player in F Bailey Howell, who is the only MSU player in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
  • Since freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition, Howell and his classmates watched as Babe's first team finished 12-12.

McCarthy made a more ambitious out of conference schedule for his second year.

  • On December 28, 1956, the team defeated Denver in a holiday tournament in Evansville IN. When word reached Starkville that the Pioneers had fielded two black players and that the host Evansville team would play one in the champion­ship game, school president Ben Hilbun ordered the team to return home.
  • Mississippi law prohibited teams from state schools from participating in racially integrated athletic contests anywhere.
  • This was was a harbinger of bigger problems ahead. The 1956-57 team finished 17-8, the highlight being an 89-81 upset of mighty Kentucky in Starkville. This victory became even more impressive when the Wildcats won the NCAA champ­ionship.
1957-58 saw further improvement as McCarthy built a better team around Howell: 9-5 in the SEC and 20-5 overall.
  • Admittedly the non-conference schedule was limited because of the state segregation law.
  • By Howell's senior year, all the pieces were in place for a strong championship run.
  • Kentucky met defeat in Starkville again, 66-58. The game essentially determined the SEC championship as the Maroons finished conference play 13-1 while UK was 12-2.
  • However, at State's last regular season game, President Hilbun announced that the team would not participate in the NCAA tournament because of the possibility they would have to play integrated teams.
  • So Kentucky became the SEC representative. Many years later, Howell said, "It was a bitter disappointment. But back then you didn't make waves. You accepted authority and went about your business."

MSU slumped to 12-13 (5-9 SEC) in 1959-60 in a rebuilding year but rebounded with a vengeance to capture the SEC title again in 1961 and 1962.

  • However, in both cases there was no question the team would not play in the NCAA tournament.
  • The team's star, W. D. (Red) Stroud, said: "We didn't give not going a second thought. When the SEC season ended, we turned in our shirts."
To be continued ...
Ireland Turns Loyola Around

This is the second in a sequence of four related Snapshots. Part One is above.

George Ireland became the head basketball coach at Loyola University of Chicago in 1951. Ireland had been the star G and senior captain at Notre Dame when Ray Meyer, the future Hall of Fame coach at DePaul, Loyola's crosstown rival, was a sophomore. In his first nine seasons at Loyola, Ireland's record was only 107-106.

As much for job security as for social activism, Ireland began recruiting African-American players. Despite San Francisco's two-year reign at NCAA champions in 1955-6 led by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, the unspoken rule in college basketball across the North and West was "Two blacks at home, three on the road, and four if you fall behind."
George Ireland with Loyola players
Loyola Coach George Ireland with Ron Miller and Johnny Egan
Ireland's first black star was Jerry Harkness, a 6'3" New York City F who started play as a sophomore in 1960-61 when the Ramblers went 15-8 (after 10-12 the year before when Harkness, like all freshmen in that era, was ineligible for varsity competition). The following season, Harkness was joined by Vic Rouse and Leslie Hunter, both from Pearl High School in Nashville. Loyola went 23-4 and won the NIT championship. When the team traveled to New Orleans to play Loyola of the South, the black players lived with black families while the white players stayed in a hotel. The Ramblers clobbered the Wolfpack, who were coached by former Rambler coach Jim McCafferty, 95-73. Ireland's team had a scary evening later that season in Huntington WV. After defeating Marshall 88-80, the Ramblers had to sneak out of a locker room back door to avoid an angry mob. The next season, in Houston, the team was spit on and ducked pennies thrown by spectators.

By 1963, Ireland added Ron Miller, a fourth African-American to the lineup. The only white was Windy City PG Johnny Egan. The Ramblers' up-tempo style that led the nation in scoring. People told Egan the team won because he, as the lone white, quarterbacked the team. Ireland was a stern taskmaster whom the players did not warm too. But the grueling practices allowed them to play all 40 minutes at a breakneck pace. Ireland also shielded the players from the hate mail and angry phone calls. George also was not popular with his fellow coaches. One coach told a banquet audience, "George Ireland isn't with us tonight because he's in Africa – recruiting."

The 1962-63 season started with 21 straight victories before a 92-75 loss at Bowling Green. After a 24-2 regular season, the team was selected for the NCAA tournament. The first round was a 111-42 romp over Tennessee State as Ireland ran up the score against a Southern team. The next opponent was another Southern team that went to great lengths to travel to E. Lansing MI for the contest.

Continued below ...
MSU Sneaks Out of the State

This is the third in a sequence of four related Snapshots. Read Part One and Part Two above.

Babe McCarthy with Bailey Howell (L)
and Red Stroud (R)
Babe McCarthy's 1962-63 Mississippi State squad won the SEC championship for the third straight year. The squad compiled a 22-5 regular season record and won 12 of 14 in the SEC, including a 56-52 win in Starkville over Kentucky, which finished an uncharacteristic 8-6 in SEC play. McCarthy's philosophy was simple: get ahead, then spread the court (in a forerunner of the Four Corners offense), and milk the lead.

As the season wound down, Babe campaigned for the university to break with tradition and allow the team to compete in the NCAA tournament. He didn't have to convince the student body, who overwhelmingly supported him. Five months earlier, the University of Mississippi had been torn apart by the enforced admission of its first African-American student, James Meredith. MSU President Dean Colvard, a North Carolinian who took the post in 1960, saw basketball as a way to prepare his campus for the inevitable integration. Shortly before the Maroons took the floor for their season finale at Ole Miss, Colvard issued a statement that the school would send the team to the post-season tournament "unless hindered by competent authority."

After MSU won the finale 75-72 to clinch the SEC, the MSU Board voted 8-3 to support Colvard's decision despite its chairman's statement that "It looks like we are about to lose our Southern way of life." Many legislators and almost all editorial writers across the state condemned Colvard. One typical view: "We play integrated teams abroad — next we play integrated teams at home — next we recruit Negro stars to strengthen our teams — and the fast cycle of integration is completed." However, a poll taken by the Jackson newspaper found 85% of its readers in favor of MSU's trip. Citizens proclaimed their belief in segregation but wanted to support the players. One letter to the editor said: "Alabama has played in at least two bowl games against teams with Negro players ... yet no public school in Alabama at any level is integrated, and the same cannot be said for Mississippi."

The day before the team's scheduled departure for East Lansing MI, a chancery court judge issued an injunction to keep MSU from violating "the public policies of the State of Mississippi." Without knowing exactly who had been named in the injunction, Colvard gathered five school officials as well as McCarthy at a secret meeting on a dairy farm outside of Starkville and plotted a strategy to avoid the injunction. Colvard left early for a prescheduled speaking engagement at Auburn. McCarthy and AD Wade Walker took back roads to Memphis and flew to Nashville that night. All had fled the state by the time couriers arrived from Jackson with the writ.

Early the next morning, the team trainer drove the team's subs to the airfield in Starkville while assistant coach Jerry Simmons waited with the regulars on a private plane in nearby Columbus. When the trainer phoned to say that no injunction had been served, Simmons and the regulars joined the rest of the squad for the flight to Nashville where they picked up McCarthy and Walker.

East Lansing hailed the Maroons as heroes. (Ironically, "maroon" was an old Southern term for a runaway slave. Eventually, MSU began calling its teams "Bulldogs.") A local band would play for MSU in Jenison Field House. Meanwhile, a Mississippi supreme court justice threw out the injunction.

With all the uncertainty and disruption of normal practice schedules, how would the team fare against the Loyola Ramblers?

To be continued ...

MSU's First NCAA Game

This is the last in a sequence of four related Snapshots.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three.

Mississippi State Coach Babe McCarthy
Babe McCarthy
("Ol' Magnolia Mouth")

Loyola G Jerry Harkness
Jerry Harkness

Mississippi State-Loyola Opening Tip
Historic opening tip
Mississippi State-Loyola Action
Mississippi State-Loyola Action
Nate Thurmond, Bowling Green
Bowling Green's Nate Thurmond against Loyola

Mississippi State played Loyola of Chicago in the Mideast Regional in E. Lansing MI on March 15, 1963. This was MSU's first NCAA Tournament game ever as well as the school's first contest in any sport against an opponent with black players. The Loyola coach, George Ireland, who liked to run up the score on Southern teams whenever he played them, admired the Maroons for defying state law and making the trip north.

After watching Loyola slaughter Tennessee State 111-42 in a play-in game (required since Loyola was an at-large team rather than a conference champion), State coach "Babe" McCarthy told the press: "I wish I'd stayed home. Nobody can beat a team like that." However, he told his team they could beat Loyola the same way they'd won at Kentucky the year before: get the lead, then run their delay offense.

Captains Shake HandsCenters Shake Hands
The captains shake hands (L) and the centers shake before the opening tip.
Loyola's senior leader, Jerry Harkness, one of four African-American starters for the Ramblers, remembers all the flashbulbs going off when he shook hands with Joe Dan Gold, the MSU captain, before tipoff. McCarthy's plan worked at first. The Bulldogs used their delay game to take a 7-0 lead in the first five minutes. Then Loyola adjusted defensively and played more patiently on offense to move out to a 26-19 halftime lead. The Ramblers never relinquished the advantage in a 61-51 triumph.
Mississippi State-Loyola Action - 2
Mississippi State-Loyola Action

Harkness led all scorers with 20. Vic Rouse added 16, Leslie Hunter 12, and Ron Miller 11. All SEC F Leland Mitchell, who fouled out with six to play, topped MSU with 14. More importantly, despite the wariness of both squads, there wasn't a single instance of taunting or overly physical play. Mitchell helped Rouse up after the two went to the floor for a loose ball.

Video about the Mississippi State-Loyola Game

Handshake after game
MSU's Stan Brinker shakes Jerry Harkness's hand after the game
Loyola went on to defeat Illinois 79-64 for the Mideast Regional championship. In the Final Four, the Ramblers dispatched another segregated Southern team, Duke, 94-75. That set up a showdown with defending champion Cincinnati in another historic game. (See below.)

In those days, the losers of the first games at each Regional played a consolation game. Mississippi State defeated Bowling Green 65-60 despite 31 RBs by BG's All-American African-American C Nate Thurmond. When the Maroons returned to Starkville, cars lined up for 20 miles to welcome them home. As one of the MSU players, Bobby Shows, has said: "The K.K.K. boys were a nasty ugly minority. Most people weren't like that. And even though we lost, we came home as winners."

At the 2008 Final Four in Detroit, the NCAA sponsored a special screening of the documentary "Game of Change" that chronicles the LoyolaMississippi State game.

A Memorable NCAA Final
This is the follow-up to a sequence of four related Snapshots above.

The 1963 NCAA title game between Loyola of Chicago and Cincinnati at Freedom Hall in Louisville has been called "one of the most memorable in tournament history." Reasons?

  • Last championship game before UCLA began its string of 10 titles over the next 12 years.
  • First one televised under a six-year contract that propelled college basketball into the national limelight.
  • The first title game in which the majority of the starters on both sides were black – four for Loyola and three for Cincinnati.

Making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament, Loyola was a decided underdog to Ed Junker's Bearcats, the two-time defending champions who were 82-6 the last three years. They were playing in an unprecedented fifth straight Final Four. The contest was a dream matchup in that Loyola led the nation in offense while Cincinnati was the #1 defensive team.

As usually happens, defense prevailed before a sellout crowd of 19,153. The Ramblers had been led all season by senior F Jerry Harkness who had 29 points (8 above his season average) and 18 rebounds in the semifinal win over Duke the night before the final. However, the Bearcats held him without a FG until 4:29 was left in the game. Cincinnati built a 15-point lead with 11:45 to go. Partly because of foul problems, Junker decided to slow down the tempo. This turned into a fatal mistake as the Bearcats made only two FGs in the last 14 minutes of regulation.

With their top scorer finally contributing and their furious press creating mayhem, Loyola fought back to trail 53-52 with 12 seconds left. Cincy's G Larry Shingleton made the first of a one-and-one but missed the second. This gave Harkness the chance to hit a 10-footer to tie at the end of regulation. If Shingleton had made the second FT, Cincinnati would undoubtedly have won since there was no 3-point shot then.

The overtime started fast. Harkness got the tip and streaked to the basket for a two-point lead. Bearcat All-American George Wilson tied it with a "twisting, close-in shot." Ron Miller's 25-foot jump shot put Loyola up again with three minutes left but Tom Thacker hit Shingleton on a court-length pass over the Rambler press for a tying layup with 2:15 left.

Loyola coach George Ireland decided to hold the ball for the last shot. The strategy almost backfired. At 1:21 Shingleton forced his counterpart, John Egan, the only white Rambler, into a jump ball between the two smallest players on the court. Miller grabbed the tip in a race with Tony Yates, enabling the stall to continue. Everyone in the arena expected Harkness to take the final shot, and he tried to get open with seven seconds left. But Yates and Ron Bonham forced him to pass the ball in midair to Leslie Hunter at the FT line. Hunter missed the shot, but his Nashville high school teammate, 6'6" Vic Rouse, tipped it in just before the buzzer for an exciting 70-68 victory. [I remember listening to the game in Vicksburg MS. I think I picked up a faraway station that night.]

Loyola's starters played the entire game without substitution. They committed only three turnovers to 16 for Cincinnati. Rouse scored 15 with a game-high 12 rebounds. Hunter led the scoring with 16 points and added 11 boards.

Final note: Viewers in Chicago saw the game only on tape delay after the high school state championship game won by Carver of Chicago. Such was the prestige – or lack thereof – of college basketball in 1963.

Final Note #2: Loyola remains the only team from Illlinois ever to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.

Loyola-Cincinnati Action - 1 Jerry Harkness guards xxx

Loyola-Cincinnati Action - 2

Loyola-Cincinnati Action - 3
Johnny Egan drives against
the Bearcats.

Loyola Ramblers with Mayor Richard Daley
Loyola Coach George Ireland shakes hands with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley
as the team presents the National Championship trophy
Drake's Best in 39 Years
The 2007-8 season was the best since 1986 for the Drake Bulldogs of Des Moines IA. However, the school's best season ever was 1968-9 when the Bulldogs made the Final Four. It took UCLA to eliminate them in the semifinals in the Bruins' closest game of the tournament by far.

Coach Maury John's squad compiled a 22-4 regular season record to win a share of the Missouri Valley Conference championship with Louisville. Since only the champion of the conference went to the NCAA tournament and there was no conference tournament, Drake defeated the Cardinals 77-73 in a playoff to make March Madness for the first time.

A stellar freshman class from four years earlier had now matured into senior leaders: high school teammates Dolph Pulliam, the top player in Indiana, and 6'3" Willie McCarter; and 6'8" Garry Odom, a high-school All-American from St. Louis. The next year's group of recruits included 6'5" Al Williams and 6'8" Rick Wanamaker as well as JUCO transfers: 6'5" F Willie Wise and Gs Don Draper and Gary Zeller. From 9-16 in 1966-7, Drake improved to 18-8 in '67-8 to set the stage for '68-9.

The Bulldogs finally earned a #11 ranking in the last AP poll of the regular season, while UPI put them 17th. Their play in the NCAA tournament showed how low those slots were. In the Midwest regional in Manhattan KS, Drake downed Texas A&M 81-63 and Colorado State 84-77 to earn a spot in the Final Four at Louisville's Freedom Hall.

Willie McCarter, Drake
Willie McCarter
Awaiting them was none other than John Wooden's 27-1 #1 UCLA Bruins, seeking their third straight championship and fifth in six years. The frontline consisted of F Lynn Shackleford and F Curtis Rowe and 7'2" C Lew Alcindor. The guards were John Vallely and Henry Bibby.

However, the Bulldogs were not in the least intimidated, playing their patented "belly to belly" defense all over the court. McCarter scored 8 points in two minutes. The crowd supported the underdog all the way. In the last minute, Drake trailed by only 3. McCarter missed a shot (there was no 3-point line in those days) but Pulliam put it back with 7 seconds left. Time out. UCLA threw the ball high to the other end of the court where Alcindor outleaped everyone to grab it and toss it back toward midcourt. UCLA sank two FTs after the buzzer to make the final 85-82.

One incredible stat from the game: Drake took 83 shots to UCLA's 50. McCarter scored 24 while Wise grabbed 16 (second only to Lew's 18). Afterwards, Wooden was asked what was wrong with his team? "Drake. Drake gave us as much trouble – maybe more – than any team we've ever played in the tournament."

In those days, the semifinal losers played a Consolation Game before the Championship Game. Drake bombed North Carolina 104-84 with McCarter scoring 28 and Wise 16. In the final, UCLA walloped Purdue 92-65. Near the end of the game, the Bruin crowd turned to the Drake fans and chanted, "You're #2." Some Bulldog fans thought #1 1/2 was more appropriate. Maury John was selected National Coach of the Year by the Basketball Writers Association.

McCarter was picked in the first round of the NBA draft by the LA Lakers. Wise went on to play many years for the Utah Stars of the ABA. Pulliam was chosen in the sixth round by the Celtics but decided to pursue a television career.