Discussion of Great College Hoops History at MSG Sets Stage for NCAA Eastern Regional on Friday and Sunday

Howard Goldin

New York, NY---The history of great NCAA basketball moments at the “Mecca” of college basketball, Madison Square Garden were recalled by several of the participants on Wednesday afternoon at the Garden.

MSG is celebrating its 80th anniversary of hosting college basketball this year. Since 1934, more than 3,200 games have been played in that hallowed venue.

The NCAA National Tournament began in 1939, one year after the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) originated. MSG was often the site for the two tourneys in their early years. The Garden hosted first round games of the NCAA eight times, 1952, 1955-1961. It was the site of East Regionals in 1949 and 1951. Championship contests were held there in 1943-1948 and 1950.

The final and unique championship was discussed on Wednesday by two of the players of the winning City College of New York (CCNY) team, Floyd Lane and Ron Nadell. They were part of little known team that was victorious in both the NCAA and NIT in the same season. As Nadell accurately and proudly stated, “This never happened before and will never happen again.”

The NIT was played earlier than the NCAA. Nadell explained, “Nobody heard of CCNY. We were the last team to be invited to the NIT. Nobody expected us to win except us.” The Beavers confronted Adolph Rupp’s #2 nationally ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats in the quarter-finals. To Rupp’s surprise and anger, the Jewish and Black players, he refused to shake hands with before the contest, crushed the Wildcats, 89-50. Nadell said the snub “gave us added incentive and motivation” and the one-sided win “proved a point.” In the championship game, CCNY defeated Bradley, 69-61.

The less important of the two events in that era, the NCAA, was played in late March. By virtue of its victory in the NIT, CCNY was one of the eight invitees. History repeated itself in the final as CCNY and Bradley met again and CCNY was again the victor, 71-68. 

Lane, a Bronx native who was a star of the team, admitted that so many local young men chose to remain in college in New York City because “the attraction was playing in the Garden.”

Others on the panel concurred. Dwayne “Pearl” Washington remarked, “If you didn’t play in Madison Square Garden, you didn’t play anyplace.” Felipe Lopez, a heavily recruited high school star, said the reason he chose to attend St. John’s University was because, “I wanted to be sure I was that [MSG] history.”

New England coaching icon Jim Calhoun stated, “This (MSG) was it. This is it. This will be it. The Garden and college basketball is a great romance. I love this place.”  Cal Ramsey, a great at New York University (NYU), a Knicks broadcaster in the 1970’s and a community relations specialist for the NBA franchise since the 1980’s, also chose to play college ball in NYC because “I played at least 12 games a year here (MSG).”

Art Hyland, who played for Princeton in the most recent NCAA Tournament in MSG, 1961, explained what it meant to play there, “It was a special place for those who played basketball in the East.”

Also present was one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Oscar Robertson. “The Big O”, who led his Cincinnati team to two Final Fours, was undefeated in five college games in the Garden. Two of the panelists uttered words of praise directly to him. Washington said, “You are the best” and Calhoun told him. ”No one played like you.”Robertson joked that he first came to NYC so long ago, “The Midtown Tunnel was 50 cents.”

The history will continue on Friday with the East Regional in which Connecticut will face Iowa State in game one and Virginia will play against Michigan State in the second game. The final will be held at the Garden on Sunday when one of the four teams will enter the Final Four. New special memories should be provided to players and fans during the two days.