The real varsity team hid in a dorm on campus, and the next morning boarded a private plane to Nashville where they met up with the coach and team officials.
The story behind the story of the game that changed college basketball
From Nashville, the whole group took a commercial flight to East Lansing, Michigan. Some have said local county officials, who were required by Mississippi law to be present at the service of an injunction, had no intention of assisting with preventing the team from leaving. But later that afternoon the Mississippi Supreme Court invalidated the injunction anyway..
Up in East Lansing, there were no incidents. The Loyola players were very gracious to the Mississippi State players and coaches who defied their courts and state legislature to simply play a college basketball game.
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Mitchell had scored 14 points and made 11 rebounds in his limited time on the court; his replacement was scoreless and without a rebound through the rest of the game. Loyola advanced to the regional finals with the win.
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And during the game it was polite. I always thought that they were a lot like we were when we went to New Orleans [the previous year]-- we just wanted to play basketball. While the Ramblers were defeating Mississippi State in one of the most remarkable and historic games in college basketball history, 8 Illinois had defeated Bowling Green, , for the right to face the Ramblers the following night. The Illini had strength, height, and toughness on their side—those three attributes were the deciding factor in their victory over Bowling Green.
But Loyola matched the size and strength of the Illini with quickness and a graceful shooting touch. The Blue Devils reached the semi-finals with a record. Their only two losses came in the same week in late December, when they lost to unheralded Miami and Davidson. When Duke defenders drifted out to cover Harkness or Miller shooting from long distance, the outside shooters whip-passed down low to Les Hunter, who rarely missed his jump shots from just outside the paint. Loyola led at the break. Ron Miller scored one basket on an outside shot from the baseline, and another on a drive to the basket.
After Hunter blocked a shot by Heyman, Harkness scored at the other end on a breakaway.
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Hunter and Egan made two free throws apiece, and before anyone knew what happened, Loyola led It was a run in crunch time against the 2 team in the country. With the win secure, the Ramblers outscored Duke down the stretch for an impressive victory that sent them to the tournament final. During the previous four seasons leading up to the final, there was no more accomplished team in the country than the Cincinnati Bearcats.
They were the two-time defending national champions, and they had accumulated a record in the previous four seasons heading into the game. They had beaten Jerry Lucas and the 1 Ohio State Buckeyes in the tournament, and when the two met again a year later, 2 Cincinnati again knocked off the 1 Buckeyes in a rout. In the , the Bearcats were ranked 1 from the pre-season poll to the final poll of the year, receiving several unanimous 1 poll results.
They would have been undefeated in , but for a one-point loss on the road to a top 10 team that broke their game winning streak. The team was composed of three seniors and two juniors who had played in a combined 47 NCAA Tournament games without experiencing a single loss, and they were playing for their third straight title only miles from their campus.
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A standing room only crowd of 19,—the majority Cincinnati fans-- showed up in Louisville for what promised to be a coronation. The tip-off for the national championship came at about p. Eastern Time, about p. Loyola missed 13 of their first 14 shots from the field in the first half. Loyola was lucky to be trailing at the break.
The Ramblers scored the first two points of the second half, and after the press forced a turnover, Loyola had a chance to cut the deficit to four. Yates hit foot jumper, Tom Thacker hit a lean-in eight footer, and Ron Bonham was wide open for a lay-up under the basket.
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Three minutes later it was With Cincinnati ahead by 15 points, and less than 12 minutes remaining until their third consecutive title, the Bearcats went into their legendary stall. And to get that far and not perform, that just gave me a sickening feeling. Even to this day, it never really bothers me to lose something if I perform. The Ramblers responded with a full court press that appeared to rattle the Bearcats just a bit. With Wilson out of the game for only four minutes with four trouble, Tom Thacker and Tony Yates also picked up their fourth fouls as the Cincinnati lead dwindled.
As the Bearcats brought the ball up court, Harkness stepped into the passing lane for a steal and took it to the hoop for an easy lay-up. After more than 35 minutes without a field goal, Harkness had two in six seconds. Suddenly, it was a three-point game with remaining. After two free throws by Bonham, Harkness responded with one free throw.
After Harkness missed the second crucial free throw, Cincy tipped it out of bounds. Loyola held possession, and the suddenly-hot Harkness scored again on a seven-foot jumper over a double-team to make it with left. One half of the Freedom Hall crowd—the Cincinnati fans-- were stunned silent. The other half was shouting encouragement. As Loyola gambled on stealing the inbounds pass, Thacker ran the court and caught a long baseball pass for an uncontested lay-up to make the score The Ramblers countered with an eight-foot jumper by Hunter that missed off the rim, giving Cincinnati possession and a chance to open a lead.
Thacker dribbled the ball to the free throw line, but instead of taking time off the clock, he made a long pass to an open Tony Yates alone under the basket. Shockingly, Yates missed an open five-foot shot off the glass, and Loyola dodged a bullet.
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A now-confident Harkness put up a silky-smooth jumper from seven feet out that just skipped off the top of the rim; had it landed in the hands of a Bearcat, the game would be over. But Hunter was there on the glass to tip it in, cutting the Cincinnati lead to , with 15 seconds left to play.
His first made free throw put the Bearcats up by two, Making his next free throw—in the days before the three point shot—would almost certainly put an end to the game. It was taken through the glass of the backboard, and shows the time on the clock, 12 seconds, and the score, , and the ball in the air. But I flat missed it. Les Hunter rebounded the missed free throw, and flung an outlet pass to Ron Miller, who in turn flipped the ball to Harkness down court.
But the outlet to Miller came in the middle of one of his strides; replays show that he took too many steps with the ball as he tried to get a handle on his pass to Harkness. Meanwhile, Harkness hit a short open jumper to tie the game at 54 all, and sent it to overtime. The two teams traded baskets in the beginning of overtime, capped by a Larry Shingleton breakaway lay-up that tied the game at with left to play.
Now it was time for Loyola to turn the tables on Cincinnati—holding the ball for a final shot against the team that was most notorious for the stall. The Ramblers nearly lost the ball as they ate time off the clock when they got caught in a jump ball situation, but retained possession when Egan outleaped Shingleton.
Almost everyone in the building expected Harkness to take the last shot. With eight seconds left, Egan passed the ball to Harkness on the left wing.
Guarded closely by Bonham, Harkness dribbled and took three strides, passing the ball back to Egan. Decided that Hunter had a better shot from 10 feet out, just left of the lane, Egan passed to Hunter, who put up a rainbow jumper that bounced off the front of the rim up onto the glass.
It came down into the hands of Vic Rouse on the weak side of the basket, and Rouse-- shoulder to shoulder with Wilson-- laid it in neatly off the glass just before the buzzer sounded.
Then it was a sort of different kind of feeling for me. It wasn't exuberance for having won it--obviously I was really happy, but I felt like walking off into the locker room and enjoying it. I'm not one that jumps up with joy and kisses everybody. It was especially nice to see the guys on the bench so happy about it. And then it was a blur. I remember Les taking the shot, and then I remember jumping up and down. When it happened, I didn't see Vic tip it in.