The college basketball season was in its final days, and as far as the NCAA championship was concerned, the thing to be was a favorite. Sixteen teams played in the four NCAA regional elimination tournaments over the weekend (see page 22) and what came out as winners were the three big names—Cincinnati, Duke and Loyola of Chicago. The sole underdog to join this elite trio was Oregon State, and its victory in the West was a mild enough upset. Thus, one thing the regionals insured was that the NCAA finals in Louisville's Freedom Hall this weekend was going to be a battle of the best. Meanwhile, there was plenty of other tournament action where favorites didn't fare so well.
As it moved toward its weekend finale in New York's Madison Square Garden, the National Invitation Tournament offered enough tension for a whole season, and then some. Three of the first six games were decided by a single point, and Wichita, the nation's No. 5 team and the pretournament pick, was knocked out by Villanova.
Villanova's reputation was hardly impressive going into the NIT. The Wildcats had floundered badly early in the season, but they showed a winner's flair as they beat DePaul 63-51 and then upset Wichita 54-53. DePaul stayed with Villanova for a half, but eventually the Wildcats' harassing zone defense choked off the Blue Demons. However, it was Wally Jones, a quick 6-foot-2 guard, who really ruined them. When he wasn't throwing accurate passes to fast-cutting teammates, he was going over the frantically waving DePaul defenders for 10 baskets (and 28 points in all) with his unusual jump shot on which he hesitates briefly in mid-air and then pushes the ball off, like a girl throwing a baseball.
Wichita, with a reputation for fast-breaking and zone-pressing, didn't do either very well against Villanova. Jones, directing the offense with the nonchalance of a man out for a stroll, merely dribbled away from the press whenever the Shockers tried it, and the fast break died when Villanova's 6-foot-7 Jim Washington consistently snatched rebounds away from Wichita's 6-foot-10 Nate Bowman. Despite this, Villanova was behind 53-51 with 1:16 to go after it let Dave Stallworth get away for three layups in the stretch. But Jones came to the rescue. He slipped in his funny little jump shot from short range and then added the winning point on a free throw.
For a while Memphis State looked like a team that could give the favorites trouble. Urged on by four pretty cheerleaders who had the Garden jumping with their gyrating versions of the twist, the big Tigers broke away from Fordham in the last half and won 70-49. But the twisters couldn't help against Canisius. The Griffs soon found a simple way to beat Memphis State's zone. Tony Gennari and Dick McClory shot over it for 34 points, and Bill O'Connor, a robust 205-pounder, pushed in 27 more, mostly from underneath the basket. Despite this, and the loss of four starters on fouls, Hunter Beckman, a crewcut shooter who scored 30 points, kept his team in the game until the last three minutes, when Canisius pulled away to win 76-67.
St. Louis and Miami also scored first-round victories, but barely. St. Louis, locked in a close struggle with La Salle, got help from an unexpected source. With Bill Nordmann, his starting center, in foul trouble, Coach John Benington decided in the closing minutes to gamble with Gil Beckemeier, a 6-foot-10 third-stringer, thus hoping to control the rebounds. Beckemeier did more than that. He sank three turn-around jump shots off the pivot in the last two minutes and won the game for the Bills 62-61.
St. Francis of Brooklyn had bigger Miami on the run for a long time. Except for Mike McCoy, a lithe 7-foot-1 center who scores from outside (and did for most of his 29 points), the Hurricanes shot badly and handled the ball worse. With Jim Raftery driving off a high post for 23 points, St. Francis was ahead 66-65 with 3:38 to play. Then Raftery fouled out, and Miami went on to win 71-70 on McCoy's layup.
THE SMALL COLLEGES
The names weren't as big but the crowds were as enthusiastic and the stakes just as high in Evansville, Ind. and Kansas City, where small-college championships were settled last week.
There were less than two minutes to play in the NCAA College Division title game in Evansville when Bob Glasrud of South Dakota State came off the bench to perform some improbable feats. Wittenberg, the nation's No. 1 small-college team, had trailed the taller and faster Jackrabbits by 10 points early in the first half, but the Tigers stuck with their tantalizing stall that is as effective as a lullaby. Suitably lulled, State began pressing for shots. In the meantime, Wittenberg played the percentages and led 41-38 going into the last minute. But the percentage makers never dealt with a Glasrud, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who had played so briefly in Dakota's earlier tournament games that he hadn't taken so much as a single shot. He waited until there were only 55 seconds left to try his first one. It was from 25 feet out, and it went in. After Wittenberg got a point on a free throw, Glasrud took his second shot, another 25-footer, with 20 seconds to go. It, too, went in and the score was tied at 42-42.
Now it was Wittenberg that lost its poise. With 10 seconds remaining, it missed a shot from outside. State's Nick Brod got the rebound and fired it to Sid Bostic. He looked up at the scoreboard, which mistakenly had Wittenberg ahead 42-41. Thus Bostic thought his team was still behind. So he threw a desperation shot some 40 feet. In it went, giving the Jackrabbits the game, 44-42, and the championship.
"It was a lousy shot to win a championship game with," said Bostic after the game. "At the last moment I lost my balance and ended up shooting off the wrong foot. How wrong can you be and still be right?"
"Both of my shots were off balance, too," said Glasrud. But nobody believed him. He had taken two shots in the tournament and hit both. He went home batting 1,000.
"I feel a little foolish," said Dakota Coach Jim Iverson. "I've been telling these kids all year to pass up the bad shot. Those three shots in the last minute were the worst I've ever seen. But they're also the prettiest."
"There must be an easier way to lose," said Wittenberg Coach Eldon Miller.
The big man in Kansas City was 6-foot-9 Lucious Jackson, a bulky 240-pounder who has two ambitions in life: to grow three more inches and to play with the Boston Celtics. He might just do both. Rebounding well and Stuffing in points, he led his Pan American College team from Edinburg, Texas past Peru (Neb.) State 83-48, Stetson 64-41, Northern Michigan 99-73 and top-seeded Grambling 90-83 on the way to the NAIA final against Western Carolina, a hot-shooting club from Cullowhee, N.C.
Western, with a splendid outside shooter in Mel Gibson, threw up a testy zone against the Broncs, hoping to keep Jackson from getting the ball. But Lucious got it anyway. While teammates Mitchell Edwards, Jim McGurk and Marty Friddle shot from the outside, Jackson poured in 25 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. That was enough for Pan American to win 73-62.
When Jackson totted up his score for the week it showed 132 points and 93 rebounds in five games and the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.