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First the Double, Then the Trouble
Marty Burns
April 03, 2000
CCNY won the NIT and NCAA crowns in 1950, a year before falling to scandal
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April 03, 2000

First The Double, Then The Trouble

CCNY won the NIT and NCAA crowns in 1950, a year before falling to scandal

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In March the Beavers opened the NIT by shocking top seed and defending tournament champion San Francisco 65-46. The upset set up a second-round showdown with defending NCAA champion Kentucky. Respectful of Kentucky's talent and well aware of Rupp's racism, the Beavers prepared as if on a mission. When several Wildcats refused to shake hands with the black and Jewish CCNY players before the game, the Beavers bristled with anger.

Hoping to capitalize on his team's fire, Holman sent out one of his black players, Leroy Watkins, a 6'7" reserve center, for the opening tip against the Wildcats' 7-foot future All-America center, Bill Spivey. Watkins beat Spivey to the ball, and the rout was on. As the Garden crowd went wild, CCNY streaked past the Wildcats 89-50, handing them the worst defeat ever suffered by a Rupp-coached team. "We were sky-high for Kentucky," says Layne, now a high school basketball coach in Brooklyn. "We were above the rim all night." They were still in the clouds the next day. While Holman took his entire team to see South Pacific on Broadway, the Kentucky state legislature called for the flag over the capitol to be flown at half-staff.

With the shouts of "Allagaroo!" ringing in their ears, the Beavers beat Duquesne 62-52 in the semifinals to earn a date with Bradley in the title game. The Braves were 29-3, ranked No. 1 and featured All-America forward Paul Unruh and future All-America guard Gene Melchiorre. Like Kentucky, however, Bradley could not keep up with the run-and-gun Beavers, and CCNY prevailed 69-61. The Beavers were carried off the floor on the shoulders of their delirious fans.

The CCNY players didn't have much time to celebrate their achievement. Just a few days after taking home the NIT trophy, they were invited to play in the NCAA tournament, which was scheduled to begin a few days later at the Garden. Though the NIT was considered the more prestigious tournament, no team had ever won both tides in the same year, so the CCNY players set out to make history.

The Beavers hung on for a 56-55 victory over Ohio State in the East region opener and followed it two nights later with a 78-73 triumph over North Carolina State. That set up a title-game rematch with Bradley, which had beaten Kansas, UCLA and Baylor in the West Regional. Hungry for revenge, the Braves played the Beavers tough but still trailed 39-32 at halftime. Just before the buzzer Mager was sent sprawling to the court after a collision with a Bradley player. In the locker room at halftime a team doctor put six stitches in Mager's head—having him bite down on a piece of balsa wood for the pain—before sending him back out onto the court.

Bradley trailed by just a point, 69-68, with seconds to play when Melchiorre swiped a CCNY pass and raced downcourt for the potential go-ahead basket. To the Allagarooters' delight, Dambrot intercepted the Bradley star under the basket and, after a collision—and noncall—came up with the basketball. With a perfect pass Dambrot found Mager standing alone downcourt, and Mager converted the open layup to seal the 71-68 victory.

CCNY's double triumph made headlines across the country. The New York Times called it "a vindication of the democratic process." Holman appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. On CCNY's campus bedlam reigned. The day after the victory 2,000 students from CCNY's business school downtown paraded up Fifth Avenue, stopping traffic in Times Square, and boarded subways for the uptown campus, where they joined another 4,500 students on the main quadrangle for a spontaneous celebration. "The whole school turned out," Roth says. "You couldn't walk through the crowds. We were the toasts of the town."

Less than a year later they were simply toast. An investigation by the district attorney uncovered the point-shaving ring, and the CCNY players were rounded up. Warner, who was convicted of shaving points in three games during the '50-51 season, served six months in jail. CCNY canceled the rest of the season and began deemphasizing basketball. Just like that, the Beavers had gone from heaven to hell.

Today the surviving CCNY players are old men with children, grandchildren and lives far removed from the scandal. Warner spent more than 40 years working with kids as a counselor for the New York City Board of Education. Roth and Mager became successful businessmen. Roman was a psychologist working with troubled high school youth in Brooklyn before he died of leukemia in 1987. To a man the surviving players vividly recall their glorious run through the '49-50 season.

"It was a unique accomplishment," says Warner as he sits in his apartment and watches March Madness on his TV screen. "No matter what people say, they can't take that away from us."

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