Ed Macauley Weekend
WHEN WE REACHED THE finals of the 1948 National Invitational Tournament, I'm sure there were a lot of people around the country saying, "St. Louis University? I didn't know they had a team. I've never heard of them." But we did have a team, and a pretty darn good one, too. And although a lot of other people hadn't heard of us and didn't give us much of a chance to win the NIT, we felt we could go into Madison Square Garden and beat New York University.
Back then, the NIT was huge. It was as big, if not bigger, than the NCAA Tournament is now. Back then, they moved the NCAA Tournament title game around to Kansas City and places like that, and there we were playing in the Garden. There was no comparison. Madison Square Garden was the center of college basketball back then. There was so much excitement in the building. It didn't hurt, too, that there was a lot of gambling on college games at the time.
Until 1946 or '47, St. Louis had never done much in the Missouri Valley Conference. We were always on a lower rung than Oklahoma A&M and Midwest powers Kansas and Indiana. That finally changed in 1947, when we did well in the NIT. The crowd at Madison Square Garden really liked us because we had a fast-break team. Our coach was Eddie Hickey, and he loved to play fast-break basketball. We'd get the ball and just start running. The Garden fans loved us because with that style, they never knew what was going to happen on the court.
By 1948, we had finally arrived. We'd finished behind Oklahoma A&M in the Missouri Valley Conference race, but we entered the NIT with only three losses. We played Bowling Green in the first game of the tournament. They had Charlie Share, a big 7'0" center who went on to play several seasons in the NBA. We ended up beating Share and Bowling Green, then we beat Western Kentucky. That put us into the final.
NYU had a good team. Of course, they bad one of the best players of all time in Dolph Schayes. He was an amazing player, with amazing skills. They also had some other good players, including Ray Lumpp, who went on to play a few seasons in the NBA with the New York Knicks. Most people looked at NYU's great reputation and the fact the game was being played in New York and figured' we were the underdog. Plus, the Violets had won 19 straight games heading into the final.
But we had beaten Holy Cross and Bob Cousy, and we had beaten Yale. So, in our minds, we could play with anyone, even if everyone across the nation was asking, "What's a billiken?" (By the way, a billiken is a good luck charm that was all the rave 80 or 90 years ago. Then someone in the 1930s said that St. Louis football coach John Bender looked like a billiken, so the team became know as Bender's Billikens. The name stuck, even though no one back in 1948 knew what a billiken was and nowadays I'm sure absolutely no one knows what it is.)
In the first half, we proved we could play with NYU. It was a close game. But in the second half, we just took control. We were the type of team that if we got a lead on you, it was difficult to catch us because we would keep running. In the second half, we were up by double digits for most of the way. We didn't want to coast, though. When there's only five minutes left in the game, everyone's saying, "Oh, they have the game locked up now." But that's not how you look at it as a player. You never know what's going to happen, you keep going and playing hard.
We ended up winning, 66-52. I finished with 24 points and was named the tournament MVP. We held Schayes to eight points, which was amazing. I had the reputation of being a defensive player. We tried to do what a lot of teams hadn't done before--play in front of the offensive man. Until then, teams just played behind the offensive man.
I ended up playing against Schayes in the pros for 10 years, so I know that to hold him in check like we did took the efforts of the whole ballclub, not just one player. It just wasn't me who held him down. You had to protect against the pass over the top, backdoor plays, and everything else you could imagine. One man alone can't do all that.
I've played in some other memorable games. In the very next season, 1949, we met Kentucky early in the season at the Sugar Bowl in Texas. Back in those days, prior to the football game they would hold a basketball tournament. We beat Holy Cross and Cousy, and Kentucky beat Tulane. We met Kentucky in the finals and we were both undefeated. They were considered the favorites in that game. They had a lot of good players: Wah Wah Jones, Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, and others. We ended up winning.
Another big game for me came in 1958 when I was on the St. Louis Hawks team that won the NBA title. Bob Pettit had 50 points in the final game as we defeated my former team, the Boston Celtics. But the game I'll never forget was the 1948 NIT final. That game brought a lot of recognition for the school and the city. Last season, St. Louis was one of the cities the Vancouver Grizzlies were considering moving to. I've seen St. Louis go crazy for basketball. I've seen that town really support a team. They loved us, especially after we won the NIT.
And after we won the title, people stopped asking "Who in the world is St. Louis University?"