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Duke’s Worst Loss Ever

No, not to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. And not the 109-66 ass-whupping Ralph Sampson and UVa put on Duke in the ’83 ACC Tournament.

No, for Duke’s worst loss ever we have to return to the darkest days of Duke basketball, the mid-1970s. Running through three coaches in three years, the Blue Devils were in the midst of their worst run of form since 1927. From 1973-74 to 1976-77, Duke finished last or tied for last in the ACC, winning 2, 2, 3, and 2 conference games, respectively. Yeesh. . . .

Let’s set the stage:

Date: March 2, 1974.

Place: UNC’s Carmichael Auditorium.

Event: final regular-season game of the year.

Duke came into the clash with a 2-9 conference record (10-14 overall), having lost three straight. Neill McGeachy was in his first (and only) season as head coach.

Commanded by Dean Smith, Carolina was 8-3 in conference play and 19-4 overall, having just come off a tough loss to top-ranked NC State on the road.

Duke was led by three double-figure scorers — serviceable enough players but hardly Duke legends: forward Bob Fleischer, center Chris Redding, and guard Kevin Billerman (a native of Brick, NJ, and a future college and high school coach).

Carolina, on the other hand, had second-team All-American Bobby Jones and future All-Americans Walter Davis and Mitch Kupchak.

The teams had already met twice in the ’73-’74 season, with Carolina winning both, but by just respectable margins: once, by nine points, in the consolation game of the since-departed Big Four tournament (involving the four ACC schools in North Carolina) and once at Duke (a narrow 73-71 win for the Heels).

In other words, despite what the two schools’ records might indicate, there was no reason to expect a blow-out. And there wasn’t one.

Trailing by two at the half, the scrappy Blue Devils pushed out to a seemingly comfortable 86-78 lead with 17 seconds left in the game.

Somebody probably went out and started up the bus. Then the wheels fell off.

Jones hits two free throws. Duke 86, UNC 80.

Duke turns it over, for a Carolina layup. Duke 86, UNC 82.

Duke inbounds goes off Tate Armstrong (a future first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls, but a freshman in ’74). Carolina gets Jones an easy layup. Duke 86, UNC 84.

Duke successfully inbounds, and UNC fouls Pete Kramer, a 57% FT shooter on the year, with three seconds left. Kramer misses the front end, Carolina rebounds and calls timeout.

Then. . . . Well, watch it:

Walter Davis banks in an uncontested 35-footer at the buzzer. Duke 86, Carolina 86. Overtime.

With defense like that, one can see why Neill McGeachy spent a single year as head coach.

You can see where this is headed. Minus their wheels, Duke was done.

Final score: UNC 96, Duke 92.

Better days lay ahead for the Devils. It would just take four years.

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Posted by on November 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


Born, Old Gold and Black

I was a “townie.” This, the traditional term accorded to Purdue University undergrads who were locals, who had grown up in the greater Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana area, before enrolling at Purdue.

I preferred “Boiler-by-birth.” My father, the world renowned Chemical Engineer, G.V. “Rex” Reklaitis, had begun his career teaching at Purdue two years before I was born. (BTW, you may not know a god damn thing about Chemical Engineering, but “Papa Rex,” as his grandkids now call him, is the Rick Mount of ChemE – Google him.)

So I grew up bleeding old gold and black. Dad and I went to the occasional football game but, being the wonderful father he is, those occasions were few and far between as he soon realized that attending Purdue football games was, and is, traumatizing for adults and children alike.

But the trips to watch basketball in Mackey Arena were magical.

Four or five times a year, while I was of the age of about 8 to 18, my Dad would secure us tickets to watch the Boilers play basketball. To be fair, since he usually was offered free tickets by the University, or by friends and colleagues who weren’t using their own, these were not seats for the most competitive games. For example, I remember witnessing the Boilers outlast the Spartans of the University of Tampa, 106-50 over the holiday break in 1984. Getting tickets to Boiler Basketball, even as a kid, was often only possible when the students weren’t on campus. Regardless, whether the opponent was Tampa or Weber State, going to Mackey was the finest memory of my childhood.

My love of college hoops barely eeks out my love of baseball. And for us baseball fans, we all equate that first view of the field, as we step out of the dark concourse, as nothing short of orgasmic. You are envisioning it right now as you read this, and it has been described in vivid detail, with far more elegant written language that I could ever be capable of.

Looking at a ball game is like looking through a stereopticon. Everything seems heightened. The grass is greener. The uniform whites are brighter than they should be. Maybe it’s the containment. The narrowing of focus. On the other hand, maybe it’s the tendency to drink six or eight beers in the early innings.

Parker, Robert B.. Mortal Stakes (The Spenser Series Book 3) (p. 11). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Ok, maybe that’s not Bob Uecker-level prose, but there are few things as visually pristine as an immaculately manicured Major League baseball field. Aw heck, even the field on which my 11 year-old son plays, where I am coach and groundskeeper, is still a beautiful sight. But … but … nothing stirs my soul more than stepping into the bowl of Mackey Arena.

And then the notes of “Hail Purdue” begin to sally forth…

As an undergraduate I attended every Purdue home game for four years straight. And yeah, I got a degree, drank enough beer to float the Titanic, and made some lifelong friends. But personally witnessing a three-peat of Big Ten championships remains the greatest accomplishment of my college career.

In 2019, Purdue came within a properly-executed-block-out-on-a-missed-free-throw-attempt from reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1980. In the last 40 years, Purdue has rarely been regarded as a perennial National Championship contender the way we view Michigan State, North Carolina or Kentucky. However, they have won 9 Big Ten Championships, gone to the NCAA tournament 28 times, advanced to 7 Sweet 16s, and 3 Elite Eights.

In 1994, I was there in person for the Elite Eight, at Thompson-Boling Arena, on the Campus of the University of Tennessee, to watch the #1 Seed, Glenn Robinson-lead Boilers blow a 10 point half-time lead to Cherokee Parks and whoever else was on that team that eventually lost to Arkansas.

In 2000 I watched the Boilers lose to Wisconsin (!) in the Regional Finals from my hotel room during my cousin’s wedding. (The reception was held at the hotel and was already in full swing, so no one missed me. Few rarely do.)

And, in 2019, after UVA tied the game in the final moments of regulation, I turned off the TV, retreated to my home office and, with the lights off, stared at ESPN’s Gamecast on my phone until the Boilermakers, ultimately and inevitably, failed to reach the Holy Land once again.

As a life-long Cubs’ fan who was found by his wife weeping on the living room floor after the Cubbies won it all in 2016, I would gladly trade that moment for one Final Four visit for the Old Gold and Black. All the same, I am delighted to have ridden the Boiler Special for all these years and will be eagerly sharing my experiences, including profiles of Purdue players and plenty on the opponents they battled against, with all who can be bothered to read any of it. Oh, and after I finished up in West Lafayette, I headed down to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to attend Wake Forest University to get an M.A., but more importantly, to personally witness the final year of Tim Duncan’s college career.

I’m the dude who got to watch 6 years of Big 10 and ACC basketball in person.

NCAA Hoops are back! Boiler Up! Go Deacs!


P.S. Only 3 D1 schools list their official colors as “Old Gold and Black”: Purdue, Wake Forest, and Vanderbilt. (Chose not to go to Vandy for my Ph.D. because Nashville is overrated … and I didn’t get accepted.)

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Posted by on November 24, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Welcome to Hardwood History!

Welcome! I’ve been a die-hard college basketball fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, and have been a University of Dayton fan for as long as I can remember. I come from a long line of basketball players and fans; I played ball in high school, coached high school ball while in college, and had season tickets to two college teams.  When I left home, I went to Duke University, and my time there corresponds almost exactly to the career of Mike Krzyzewski (he was began coaching there my sophomore year), with whom, by the way, I share a birthday. My loyalties are split, therefore, between UD and Duke, though I confess to following Coach K’s career with more fervor.  I also teach American history at a community college in New Jersey, so for the past 18 years I’ve followed the ups and downs of the Monmouth University program, including several NCAA Tournament appearances, a victory in the 2006 play-in game, and three straight seasons of failing to qualify for the Northeast Conference tournament.

But enough of my bona fides. This blog is my attempt to discuss the intersection of my two passions: college basketball and history. In it I’ll take a look at players from the last fifty years or so, with a focus on the “forgotten stars” of the past. I’ve no interest in writing about the Magic Johnsons, Michael Jordans, or Lew Alcindors, simply because their stories are so well known and have been told by those whose access and writing skills far surpass my own. Instead I’ll examine players whose greatness you might not know about and who probably didn’t have wildly successful pro careers. Theirs are the kinds of stories that attracted me to the field of history in the first place. You might not like the choices of subjects, but hopefully you’ll learn something interesting or useful about this great game’s past.

I also plan to write about some of the memorable seasons in the history of the NCAA.  There are a million stories out there, and not just from the NCAA Tournament. I disagree vehemently with the view of many that in college basketball, “the regular season is meaningless.”  This attitude serves to reinforce the silly notion that championships are the be-all and end-all of sports (indeed, of life), and it rejects out of hand the pleasure that the game has brought, and continues to bring, to millions of fans like me–and you, I hope. So my season reviews will discuss the Tournament, but I hope to concentrate mostly on the regular season, bringing to light those stories, players, and coaches that have made this the great sport that it is.

Finally, I plan on throwing out quick posts on almost anything college hoops related–past, present, and future–that strikes my fancy. Why? ‘Cause it’s my blog, that’s why!

In any case, I hope you find this blog fun and entertaining. All I know for sure is that I’ll have a blast writing it, and I can only pray that it doesn’t suck up as much time as I fear it might.

So — on with the show!!

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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Uncategorized