Providence Coach Joe Mullaney has become an expert at enduring uneasy moments. Last week, having seen his Friars collapse in the face of a late 15-point spree by St. Bona-venture and lose 83-71, Mullaney expected the worst when Dayton scored 15 straight points and led his team, 44-31, early in the second half in New York's Madison Square Garden. But then Vinnie Ernst, a puckish little (5-feet-8) fellow, took over. He pestered Dayton's backcourt man by stealing passes and led a furious fast break that left the Flyers gasping. Ernst's playmaking with Ray Flynn, Jim Stone and Bob Kovalski sot up 26 points and Providence won, 84-72. Mullaney squirmed again when Niagara took a 12-point lead over Providence. But once more Ernst got the Friars moving and Niagara went down after 16 straight wins, 12-78.
St. John's, bogged down in a losing season, was no match for taller and more talented Bowling Green. The Redmen moved the ball stylishly enough until they got a man free, but then he would drop the pass, miss the shot or find himself trapped by the up-stretched arms of Bowling Green's 6-foot-11 Nate Thurmond. Meanwhile, the Falcons, with Thurmond blocking shots and Howie Komives scoring 21 points, won easily, 63-55. Canisius, too, had its troubles with Thurmond and Komives. Thurmond held Bill O'Connor, the nation's No. 4 scorer, to eight points before fouling out, while Komives scored 17 points to give Bowling Green a close 6-59 win.
Temple tried to use its smooth pattern offense against bigger LaSalle, but fruitlessly. The Explorers clogged the middle with a tight 2-3 zone, took charge of the boards and beat the Owls 76-64. St. Joseph's had things even easier. Jim Boyle and Tom Wynne shot over St. Peter's 1-2-2 zone for nine baskets apiece, and the Hawks won 76-66. But the two top teams in Philadelphia's Big Five were now worried about Villanova. The improving Wildcats beat Duquesne 49-45, then upset Memphis State 59-54.
In the Ivy League, Princeton turned loose newly eligible Chuck Berling, a redhead with a sharp eye for the basket, and he gave Bill Bradley just the help he needed to knock Penn out of first place. Bradley's 22 points and Berling's 17 beat the Quakers, 7-58, and put Yale, a 74-72 overtime winner over Dartmouth, into the league lead.
In other games, NYU, with Happy Hairston back in good academic standing, beat Fairleigh Dickinson 7-62; Holy Cross out-scored Dartmouth 87-7 and Boston College 74-61; Creighton defeated St. Bonaventure 81-74, and Seton Hall beat LIU 71-61 and Catholic U. 8-75-The top three:
1. ST. JOSEPH'S (14-3)
2. NYU (10-2)
3. PROVIDENCE (11-4)
In 17 straight games against West Virginia, Furman tried to run with the Mountaineers, and each time it lost the race. Last week the Paladins found a way to beat their old tormentors. They held the ball while the Mountaineers stewed, calmly shot their free throws (23 for 26) and refused to panic when West Virginia staged a late rally. Gerry Glur and Jerry Smith outshot the fabled Rod Thorn as Furman won, 59-58. West Virginia came back to beat Florida easily enough, 114-67, but Pitt took the Mountaineers right down to the very end before losing, 69-68. Encouraged, Virginia Tech came to life in the Southern Conference, beating V.MI 77-66 and George Washington 74-7.
Kentucky's Adolph Rupp is no man to cry over a lost championship, not even after league-leading Georgia Tech just about eliminated his Wildcats from the Southeastern Conference race. Rupp could thank Tech sophomore Ron Scharf for his unlikely predicament. Scharf's two jump shots in the final minutes overtook Kentucky 66-62. "We're not ashamed," said The Baron. "We're not embarrassed, either." Tech also beat Alabama 74-58 and now only Mississippi State, which defeated LSU 73-66, and Auburn, a bare 62-59 winner over Vanderbilt, have a chance to catch the Georgians.