While the NCAA tournament was getting down to four semifinalists (page 26)—UCLA, Houston, North Carolina and Ohio State—New York's National Invitation Tournament cut its 16-team field in half in Madison Square Garden. But members of the selection committee, who had procrastinated before finally inviting St. Peter's and LIU, the nation's No. 1 small-college team, were blushing mildly by the time the first round ended Saturday night. So far the two teams were the hits of the tournament.
One reason there was some hesitancy about St. Peter's, despite its fine 22-2 record, was that the Peacocks had failed miserably in three other trips to the NIT. And it looked suspiciously like that would happen again when Marshall led them 51-38 at the half before 17,602 fans, including a sizable—and noisy—group of St. Peter's diehards who had traveled across the river from Jersey City. But Elnardo Webster, a 6'5" leaper with a good shooting eye, soon changed things. Popping away from the corners, dropping in layups and snatching rebounds (he had 17), Webster teamed with husky Pete O'Dea to lead St. Peter's on a 16-0 tear. When the game ended, the Peacocks were in an 83-83 tie with Marshall's helter-skelter gunners. St. Peter's finally won 102-93 in double overtime, and Webster scored 51 points, two short of George Mikan's 23-year-old tournament record. What was the difference between last year's team and this one? "I'm here," said Webster candidly. "That's the difference."
There was less suspense about the way Duke, the tournament favorite, handled Oklahoma City. Vic Bubas, with his team's 12-10 slowdown loss to North Carolina State in mind, had promised, "We'll come out shooting—if we haven't forgotten how." The Blue Devils remembered. Mike Lewis, Steve Vandenberg and Joe Kennedy bombed the poor Chiefs unmercifully and whipped them 97-81. OCU Coach Abe Lemons was so moved by the trouncing that he had his squad scrimmage on the Garden court at half time. "What was I going to tell them in the locker room?" said Lemons. "All I wanted them to do was hustle a little so we didn't get booed out of town."
Philadelphia teams earned an even break. Kansas—big, strong, domineering on the boards and with a clever attack quarter-backed by deadpan Jo Jo White—was just too much for smaller Temple Friday night. John Baum's rebounding and shooting (for 29 points) kept the Owls in the game for a while, but once Phil Harmon, a long-range bomber, began to drop in shots, it was all over for Temple. Kansas won 82-76.
Villanova, however, strangled Wyoming with its tricky "ball" defense and won easily, 77-66. Coach Jack Kraft's idea is "to get the pressure off you and put it on them," and what the Wildcats do basically is set up in a 2-2 zone and play the ball-handler man-to-man. They harass the outside shooters, clog the middle and shut off the passing lanes. The distressed Cowboys were rarely able to penetrate the defense, and Johnny Jones, a lithe jump shooter, wrecked them with 38 points. "We've played zones," said Coach Bill Strannigan admiringly, "but nothing as tough as this."
Maybe it was just the luck of the Irish, but Notre Dame caught Army off its usually disciplined game Saturday afternoon—the day before St. Patrick's Day—and beat the Cadets 62-58. It was not easy, though. Bill Schutsky scored 22 points in the first half and Army led 38-37. Then the Notre Dame defense began to collapse around Schutsky and he got nine points the rest of the game. Still the Cadets were behind by only two with 4:34 to go. Then Dwight Murphy scored on a drive, Jim Derrig plopped in three foul shots and that settled it.
Almost everybody thought little LIU, although beaten only once all year (by St. Peter's), was badly overmatched when it faced Bradley, the Missouri Valley runner-up. It certainly looked that way, too, when the Braves, with smooth 6'6" Joe Allen dealing deftly off a low post and Al Smith and L. C. Bowen pitching in jumpers, led 41-36 at the half. But the plucky Blackbirds hung on. Whenever things appeared to be hopeless, Luther Green, a 6'6�" jumping jack who scored 33 points, or Larry Newbold, a Little All-America guard who had 22, would come up with a basket or two. Suddenly LIU was ahead 67-65 with 5:15 to go. Green's three points in the last 41 seconds won it for the Blackbirds, setting off a wild mob scene. "We did it. The outlaws won," crowed Coach Roy Rubin happily. "I'm delirious."
After that, Saturday night's games were an anticlimax. Fordham Coach Johnny Bach had worried about Duquesne's muscle, predicting, "We're going to have to fight for our lives off the boards." Actually the Rams started off as if they were going to run the Dukes right out of the Garden. They controlled the boards and Bill Langheld soon had them ahead 26-13. But then Fordham got sloppy and, before it was over, the Rams had to beat Duquesne's late press to win 69-60.
West Virginia brought a brassy jazz band, dressed in flashy blue-and-white striped blazers, and four perky young go-go dancers into New York to inspire its team and, for a while, it worked. The Mountaineers, operating out of a 2-3 zone, led Dayton 33-32 after 15 minutes. Then the Flyers broke up the zone by putting Dan Sadlier on a high post, moving 6'10" Dan Obrovac underneath and feeding him for layups. Meanwhile Don May ranged around the perimeter, plunking in soft jumpers. Obrovac, who had averaged 6.7 points a game, scored 30, May had 24 and Dayton coasted home 87-68.