Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Other Near-Miss In Providence

Stephanie Sutton has worked as the ticket manager here at Princeton since before TigerBlog showed up. TB can remember quite a few years ago when Mary Sutton, Stephanie's daughter, was out on the side court at Jadwin Gym being put through a workout by none other than Pete Carril, who had Mary dribbling around chairs, making layups, working on her shot and all the rest.

Mary has always been something a gym rat, and apparently it's starting to pay off. The other day, in her middle school game, Mary snapped a tie game by nailing a three-pointer at the final buzzer.

Mary was all smiles in the mailroom yesterday when TB congratulated her on her big shot. From talking to her and her mother, TB found out that Mike Dabney has a daughter who plays on the middle school level in the Princeton area as well and that Dabney is the father of Maya Moore, the best player for UConn.

TigerBlog knew that Dabney was a great player at Rutgers and a member of the 1975-76 Scarlet Knights' Final Four team. He didn't know he was Moore's father.

He did know that in the opening round of the 1976 NCAA tournament, Rutgers defeated Princeton 54-53 and that Peter Malloy, a 90% foul shooter, missed a one-and-one in the final seconds. The loose ball was collected by Dabney as time ran out, and RU had dodged a big bullet while keeping its perfect season alive.

The run would continue until the national semifinals, when Rutgers lost to Michigan 86-70. Back then there was still a consolation game, and Rutgers lost to UCLA 106-92 in that game.

The Knights were led that year by Dabney, Phil Sellers, Hollis Copeland, James Bailey and Eddie Jordan. It was a great team, one that Princeton almost kept from making history.

TigerBlog followed that Rutgers team, much more so than he did Princeton at the time.

The 1975-76 Rutgers team featured five of the top seven scorers in school history:
1. Phil Sellers (72-76) 2399
2. Bob Lloyd (64-67) 2045
3. James Bailey (75-79) 2034
4. Mike Dabney (72-76) 1902

5. Hollis Copeland (74-78) 1769
6. Quincy Douby (2003-06) 1690
7. Eddie Jordan (73-77) 1632

The Princeton team that played Rutgers in the NCAA tournament featured none of the top seven scorers in school history:
2503 William W. Bradley, 1962-65
1546 Christopher J. (Kit) Mueller, 1987-91
1451 Peter C. Campbell, 1959-62
1441 Craig M. Robinson, 1979-83
1428 Brian W. Earl, 1995-1999
1365 Robert K. Scrabis, 1985-89
1321 Geoffrey H. Petrie, 1967-70

In fact, the only player on the 1975-76 team who was in the top 18 in career points was Frank Sowinski, who was 12th with 1,133.

The 1975 Tigers missed out on the NCAA tournament but did manage one of the great moments in program history by winning the NIT with four straight wins at Madison Square Garden.

The 1976 Tigers ripped through the Ivy League with a perfect 14-0 record, and the reward was its first round matchup with Rutgers. Like the more famous near-miss 13 years later against Georgetown, a 50-49 Princeton loss, this one would also be at the Providence Civic Center.

TigerBlog has watched the 1989 Georgetown game a million times, and he's written and read a ton about it, not to mention head Pete Carril talk about it in great depth. The amount that he's written and read about and heard Carril talk about the 1976 Rutgers NCAA game is a fraction of that, and he's not 100% sure why that is.

When the great near-misses in NCAA tournament history come up, the 1989 Princeton-Georgetown game is always at the top of the list. The 1976 Rutgers game is never mentioned.

Maybe this is because of the fact that Georgetown was a No. 1 seed and Princeton was the No. 16, while in 1976, there were no seedings (that didn't happen until 1979). Or maybe it was because of Georgetown's reputation as a powerhouse, while Rutgers was more of a one-hit wonder that year.

Still, Georgetown in 1989 didn't reach the Final Four, something that Rutgers in 1976 did. That alone makes the 1976 game at least the equal of the 1989 game, if not more excruciating.

Princeton lost to Rutgers 75-62 at Jadwin during the season, but the rematch would be much closer. Unlike the Georgetown game, during which Princeton had the lead almost the entire game, Princeton would never lead against Rutgers and would only tie the score three times, at 2-2, 16-16 and 20-20.

RU led by eight at the half, at 33-25, but Princeton would never trail by more than that in the second half. Eventually, the Tigers chipped it away to five, then three and finally one.

It was still a one-point game when Dabney missed the front end of his own one-and-one with 35 seconds to play, to set up the tough end for Princeton and Malloy, one of the real class acts in Princeton basketball history and now a lawyer on Long Island.

Princeton would have four players in double figures: Sowinski, Barnes Hauptfuhrer, Armond Hill (who fouled out with the Tigers down 54-49) and Bob Slaughter.

Jordan led everyone with 16, while Sellers and Dabney were also in double figures.

Until this morning, TB had never looked at the box score for that game. He knows the box score from the Georgetown game essentially by heart.

He's not sure why that is, and why the 1976 game against Rutgers has been so ignored by history.

As near-misses go, it's up there with any of them.


Anonymous said...

Pete stayed up drinking all night with Malloy after the loss.

Anonymous said...

The 1989.Georgetown game is more famous in part because it took place in the ESPN era. I don't know how many people had the opportunity to see Princeton play Rutgers in 1976 but it was probably at best a regional broadcast. Georgetown in 1989 was carried live nationally in prime time on a Friday night. Equally important, ESPN has rebroadcast the game a million times since then. Most college basketball fans have seen at least some part of the video. 50-49 is by now part of the visual memory of most fans. The Rutgers game was, unfortunately, ahead of its time.

Class of '76 said...

I was at that game, sitting in the first row behind the basket where Muggsy missed the free throw. I always thought he deserved a two shot foul. My memory is that he was fouled in the lane going to the hoop. Would love to see the replay on that.

I still see the ball arcing over Barnes and going to Dabney as the clock ran out.

The NYT ran a great column the next day on Muggsy and how he handled himself after the game in the locker room. Here's the ending:

"Rutgers had won and Princeton had lost in the only regionally televised crisis in Pete Molloy's life. Some kids would have hidden. Some coaches would have closed the locker room.

'But the kid really stood up', somebody was saying now. 'It's that Princeton class.'"