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All winter long the evidence had been mounting that the nation's best college basketball was being played in the Midwest. Last weekend, as the season ended in San Francisco and New York, the proof was in. Ohio State's strong young Buckeyes easily outshot NYU 76-54 and favored California 75-55 to win the NCAA championship at San Francisco (see page 20); Bradley, Missouri Valley runner-up, beat Providence 88-72 for the NIT title at New York.
Late last Saturday afternoon, Bradley Coach Chuck Orsborn huffed a welcome sigh of relief, accommodatingly bent his head for a well-deserved buss from a cute Bradley cheerleader, then ambled to mid-court in New York's Madison Square Garden to accept the NIT championship trophy before the stragglers left from a crowd of 16,421.
It was the end of a long and trying week that began innocently enough with Bradley beating tall and talented Dayton 78-64, but deteriorated on the afternoon of the semifinal into a dime thriller, complete with a mysterious, disappearing bellhop. Chet Walker, Bradley's jumpy, high-scoring sophomore star, thought he had been poisoned by some orange juice delivered by a stranger. True or not, Walker, who has a history of jittery nerves and upset stomachs, was available to his team for only short but highly effective bursts in the rest of the tournament.
In the semifinals, Bradley met St. Bonaventure, a team which had completely shattered St. John's sophomores with an effective pincer-like half-court press and beat them horribly 106-71. The aggressive Bonnies, with the tournament's two top scorers in the slickshooting Stith brothers, Tom and Sam, tried the same tactics on Bradley. They didn't work. Mike Owens, a superb playmaker, handled the harrassing defense neatly. He simply dribbled past the defenders, fed off quickly and accurately to Sophomore Mack Herndon, who scored 22 points, and to the suffering Walker, who still managed to score 27 points in 23 minutes of play. The Braves won easily 82-71.
Meanwhile, Providence was busy working its way past Utah State 68-62. The eager and exciting Friars, led by Len Wilkens' ball hawking and Johnny Egan's deft ball handling, kept the game Aggies at arm's length despite impressive performances by State's Cornell Green and Jerry Schofield.
And so the stage was set for the final game. Wilkens (later voted the Most Valuable Player) and Egan, with some occasional rebounding help from 6-foot 10-inch Jimmy Hadnot, pulled Providence into a 62-50 lead with 10 minutes to play. But then Owens began to set up plays. Walker, Herndon and Dan Smith rebounded and scored from in close. And Al Saunders calmly dropped in free throws. Suddenly Providence's 1-3-1 zone defense came apart and in little over six minutes Bradley moved out in front 71-70. The Braves quickly turned the game into a rout, ran off 11 straight points at the end to win 88-72.
Utah State salvaged a piece of the spoils, won 99-83 over St. Bonaventure as Green and Schofield proved a more powerful one-two punch (58 points) than the brothers Stith (48 points).
Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, who has flipped in more baskets (1,052) and scored more points (2,973) than any other major college player in history, led the nation in scoring for the third straight year. The Big O piled up 1,011 points in 30 games for a 33.7 average.