It was a game made not so much in heaven as in an emerald corner of hell; the coaches mean and hungry, the combatants bred on asphalt playgrounds and nurtured in the slinky, scar-tissue ways of the sport. All of the Irish gags were trotted out. The game should be played behind barbed wire somewhere in the shadows of Ulster. Sean O'Casey would throw up the first ball. Everyone would wear green, and how was the closed-circuit crowd in Belfast taking it, anyway?
But when the jokes and psychology were over, after the deception and the guile, it was time for the McGuires of college basketball to get right down there into the pit and slug it out in that fashion familiar only to alley fighters.
Along the sidelines it was as Frank, the older and perhaps wiser of the McGuires, had said it would be: "The shanty Irish against the lace-curtain crowd." When Al heard that, he roared. "Lace!" he said. "We lived in the back of a bar where drunks interrupted dinner looking for the men's room."
Whatever the case, when Marquette met South Carolina high atop the national standings, it was more than just the personalities of the coaches dominating the scene. It was, instead, everything that makes the college game bristle—region against region, style against style, speed against power and, yes, black against white.
Moreover, it was a savage and bloody conflict that unbeaten Marquette won 72-71. And ultimately it was decided not on the rims or in the pit but outside, where Kevin Joyce, South Carolina's fine junior guard, had the worst 40 minutes of his life. It was, as Joyce knew, his game to win or lose when the Gamecocks got the ball with 11 seconds to go. But he fumbled it in the Marquette end, had to hurry his dribble downcourt and then missed a 25-footer wide to the left as time ran out. The shot, his 12th, would have won the game; it also would have been Joyce's first basket.
With Joyce silenced, but with sophomores Brian Winters and Ed Peterson scoring 11 baskets between them, the Gamecocks had come back from 12 points behind early in the second half. They had even gone ahead, 69-68 with 2:36 left, but Marquette's Jim Chones, who led all scorers with 17 points, got a quick basket. There were more points, but then Joyce missed his shot and there was nothing left.
Much earlier than this the game had grown extremely physical, until three minutes into the second half the muscling got out of hand. As Marquette's Bob Lackey and the Gamecocks' Tom Riker struggled for the ball, the guns went off. Lackey elbowed Riker in the neck; Riker flashed a left cross on Lackey's side-whiskers. Within moments several brawls had broken out—one featuring Chones against heavyweight Danny Traylor. "Let's stay out of this," Traylor said to Chones. "Can't do it," said Chones. "My man's in trouble." Then Chones opened a nasty cut under Traylor's eye.
Frank McGuire was in the middle of the floor, bodies whizzing past him, but Al McGuire remained on his bench with his reserve players. "A waltz," he was to say later. "A bar-hall bouncer wouldn't take his coat off for this one."
After a good three minutes of heavy punching on both sides, order was restored; immediately a hefty South Carolina state trooper charged the Marquette bench and went after Lackey. The Warriors' Larry McNeill grabbed a chair, but he and everybody else were finally restrained. Lackey and Riker were removed from the contest.
"The dude sucker-punched me," said Lackey. "Then they throw me out. If I'm leavin', I want some action."