MSU to commemorate 50-year hardwood rivalry
Mississippi State's All-SEC team captain Joe Dan Gold, left, and Loyola All-American Jerry Harkness, right, met at center court in Michigan State's Jenison Field House for the tipoff for the historic 1963 NCAA Basketball Tournament game. Gold extended his hand and Harkness shook it -- making national headlines as MSU's administration and coaches defied the state's political power structure aligned against integration to compete for a national championship.
For the first time since the historic night of March 15, 1963, Mississippi State University and Loyola University Chicago will meet again on the hardwood in basketball competition. The Bulldogs and Ramblers are scheduled to meet on Dec. 15 at Joseph J. Gentile Arena in Chicago, Ill., to commemorate the NCAA Basketball Tournament game played 50 years ago at Jenison Field House in East Lansing, Mich.
The MSU Alumni Association, along with the Bulldog Club and the office of MSU President Mark E. Keenum, is planning a social for Bulldog alumni in the Chicago area prior to the game. The pre-game social will take place on Friday night, Dec. 14, at Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse and Bar. Harry Caray's is located at 33 West Kinvie St. in Chicago. The social will last from 7 to 9 p.m., with heavy hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar available.
The two teams are also scheduled to play in 2013 at Humphrey Coliseum, with the date and time to be determined at a later date.
The 1963 NCAA Tournament game between MSU and Loyola ranks as perhaps Mississippi State University's finest hour both in terms of athletics and racial reconciliation.
On three occasions prior to the 1963 season, MSU's men's basketball team was prohibited from participating in the NCAA Tournament due to the possibility of playing a team with African-American players. The No. 3-ranked Ramblers, behind Jerry Harkness' 20 points, went on to defeat Mississippi State 61-51 en route to winning the 1963 national basketball championship.
"The 1963 SEC champion Bulldogs were given the opportunity previous Mississippi State teams were denied -- to compete for a national championship against the best teams in the country," MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin said. "To do so, they had to defy a sitting Governor, avoid a court injunction and sneak out of the state. We're excited to join Loyola over the next two seasons in celebrating this historic occasion. Loyola won a national championship; Mississippi State helped to make for a better way of life. As a Bulldog, I'm proud of this team and the individuals who helped move our state forward when doing so took courage and conviction.
In 1963, MSU's basketball team was again invited to play in the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs, under head coach Babe McCarthy, were slated to play Loyola College, a team that started four black players. At the time, state law prohibited Mississippi teams from playing against integrated athletic teams. The basketball team devised a plan to sneak off campus to play in the tournament anyway.
With their plan successful, the game between the Bulldogs and racially integrated Loyola became a watershed moment for the state of Mississippi and the civil rights movement. The 2012 matchup between the Bulldogs and the Ramblers marks the 50th anniversary of this game.
"Coach McCarthy was really ahead of his time," said former MSU "Voice of the Bulldogs" Jack Cristil in 2011. "He was a great innovator and a great motivator. McCarthy could get players to play above their talent level in the system they ran. McCarthy's teams challenged the best and generally came out on top."
McCarthy won 169 games and lost 85 at MSU, winning or sharing four SEC titles and earning SEC Coach of the Year honors three consecutive years from 1961 to 1963. He produced All-Americans Jim Ashmore, Bailey Howell, Red Stroud, Leland Mitchell, and All-SEC performers Jerry Graves, Charles Hull, Joe Dan Gold, and Doug Hutton. But McCarthy is best remembered, along with MSU President Dean W. Colvard, for leading MSU's team to break the barrier of segregation by accepting the automatic bid to meet Loyola University of Chicago in the 1963 NCAA basketball tournament.
For many, the courage that Colvard and McCarthy showed in defying the Mississippi Legislature and fiery segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett to enable the all-white MSU men's basketball team to compete against a Loyola team with four African-American starters represented the university's finest hours. For many, Mississippi State's 1962-63 basketball team, coach, and the university administration came together to create a defining moment not only for MSU athletics but for American civil rights and universal sportsmanship as well.
In 1963, MSU for the third-straight year won the Southeastern Conference basketball championship. State won the championship in 1959 and declined the NCAA invitation because of the official integration policy that existed in Mississippi. The same thing happened in 1961 and 1962, but in 1963 McCarthy and Colvard were determined MSU was going to play in the tournament.
Colvard's biographer Marion A. Ellis in the 2004 book Dean W. Colvard: Quiet Leader, wrote: "Colvard had several reasons for wanting the team to compete. First of all, it would give a positive boost to the MSU and Mississippi image. Second, he felt the four seniors on the team deserved a chance after having played together for three years and having won the SEC championship all three years."
In 1963, Loyola head coach George Ireland said: "I feel Mississippi State has a right to be here, no matter what the segregationists say. They may be the best basketball team in the nation and if they are, they have a right to prove it." Harkness, the Loyola All-American, and State's All-SEC team captain Joe Dan Gold met at center court in Michigan State's Jenison Field House for the opening tip. Gold extended his hand and Harkness shook it. "About a thousand flashbulbs went off," Gold would say after the game. The game saw State jump to any early lead only to trail the Ramblers 26-19 at the half. The Maroons went on an 8-4 run to pull to within 30-27 in the second half but would get no closer. State was down four with two minutes to go and missed the shot. Cristil said it was "a good shot that just didn't go down. We had to start shooting, and Loyola beat us by 10, 61-51. It was a disappointing loss, but it had been a marvelous opportunity for the young men."
Loyola would go on to win the 1963 NCAA national championship. Ron Miller, Loyola's 6'2" guard and one of the four black starters, told writer John Thomas on the 40th anniversary of the game: "I remember the (Mississippi State) guys being nice. I remember the guys wishing us luck (after the game), and wanting us to win (the national championship). And during the game it was polite. They played a very hard, very aggressive, very strong defensive game, very clean, and they didn't back off."
Sid Salter | University Relations