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AN UGLY AFFAIR IN MINNEAPOLIS
William F. Reed
February 07, 1972
When an overpsyched Minnesota basketball team went berserk in a critical Big Ten game, Luke Witte and his Ohio State teammates were not the only victims; the entire sport emerged with a black eye
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February 07, 1972

An Ugly Affair In Minneapolis

When an overpsyched Minnesota basketball team went berserk in a critical Big Ten game, Luke Witte and his Ohio State teammates were not the only victims; the entire sport emerged with a black eye

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He had been wheeled out of Minnesota's Williams Arena on a long stretcher, bleeding and numb. At the university hospital he had spent an hour in the emergency room, where they patched him up as well as possible, then admitted him for the night. Now, on the day after the riot, only hours after he had become the victim of what the governor of Ohio called a "public mugging," Luke Witte was a mess. His right eye was completely covered with a white patch. His left ear was swollen and colored purple. An angry red scab was on his left cheek. His lower lip was swollen and a large, flesh-colored Band-Aid covered the stitched-up gash on his chin. When he got on the plane that was to take him away from Minneapolis, a stewardess looked at him, smiled a stewardess' smile and asked, "Oh, did something happen to you?"

"Yeah," said Witte, managing an answering smile from under his bandages, scabs and stitches. "I had an accident."

Accident, indeed. What happened to Witte last week and others on Ohio State's basketball team can only be described as assault and battery. The attackers were the players and fans of the University of Minnesota, an emotional lot who apparently would not stomach the idea of losing to the Buckeyes in their Big Ten showdown. So, with 36 seconds left and Ohio State holding a 50-44 lead, they rioted. For a scary, improbable interval of one minute and 35 seconds, they came swinging and kicking at the Buckeyes from all sides of the floor. Witte, Ohio State's talented seven-foot blond center, took his most serious blows when he was on the floor, writhing in pain and completely defenseless. It was an ugly, cowardly display of violence, and, when it was over, when the police and officials had finally restored order, the fans had the audacity to boo Witte as he was helped, bleeding and semiconscious, from the floor.

The final 36 seconds were not played, for fear that the Gophers and their fans would rage out of control. Later, when Paul Giel, Minnesota's new athletic director, visited the Ohio State locker room, he found Fred Taylor, the Buckeyes' coach, pale and quivering with rage and indignation.

"I knew it would be emotional," said Giel, apologetically, "but I had no idea it would be like this."

"It was bush," answered Taylor. "I've never seen anything like it. But what do you expect from a bush outfit?"

Specifically, Taylor was referring to young Bill Musselman, Minnesota's new coach, and the basketball program he brought with him from—of all places—Ohio. At Ashland College (SI, Dec. 15, 1969), Musselman built a reputation for showmanship, stingy defense and winning records. It was a reputation that was not always admired by a professor of philosophy who followed his teams there, Dr. Wayne W. Witte, father of Luke. Asked to comment on the brawl, the elder Witte said, "I'm not surprised. Musselman's intent seems to be to win at any cost. His players are brutalized and animalized to achieve that goal."

Musselman inherited a sagging program at Minnesota this season. The Gophers had not won a Big Ten title outright since 1919 (they shared one in 1937) and student interest was low. He was the fifth Minnesota coach in five years. Nevertheless, when the selection committee asked him how long it would take to turn Minnesota into a winner, Musselman said, "We'll win right off. I don't believe in rebuilding years."

He does believe in big, strong teams. Soon after he arrived in Minneapolis, Musselman picked up two junior college transfers—Ron Behagen (6'9") and Bob Nix (6'3"). Together with another JC transfer, Clyde Turner (6'8") and Jim Brewer (6'8"), Corky Taylor (6'9") and Keith Young (6'5"), already at Minnesota, they instantly comprised the most intimidating team in the conference. All except Nix were blacks who had learned the game on city playgrounds. The only question was how they would get along with Musselman, known always as a strict disciplinarian. "Discipline is the most important thing in life," says Musselman.

Next to winning, of Course. To help achieve what Musselman considered a winning environment, inspirational slogans were painted by an assistant coach on the walls of Minnesota's locker room in maroon and gold. Over the door to the players' shower is this message, the pith of the Musselman philosophy: "Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat."

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