25 Years Ago, a Young Ohio State Team Romped to the Title

United Press International

Can it really be 25 years since a trio of Ohio State sophomores helped carry the Buckeyes to the top of the collegiate basketball world?

It was 1960 at the San Francisco Cow Palace that the young Buckeyes put on one of the most awesome displays ever witnessed in an NCAA final, blitzing favored California, 75-55. The game pitted the nation's No. 1 offense in Ohio State against the Golden Bears' No. 1 defense.

The Buckeyes shot a blistering 84.2% in the first half (16 of 19) for a 37-19 lead and cooled down only slightly in the second half. For the game, Ohio State shot 67.4% (31 of 46).

Ohio State's five starters--Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Mel Nowell, Larry Siegfried and Joe Roberts--all scored in double figures, led by Lucas' 16, and combined for 75% shooting, 27 of 36.

The national championship highlighted a three-year golden era of Ohio State basketball, in which the Buckeyes, under Coach Fred Taylor, won 78 of 84 games and three consecutive Big Ten championships. Two more Big Ten championships followed with Gary Bradds in the pivot.

"I think the term they use today is 'chemistry,' " Taylor says in explaining what turned an 11-11 team the previous season to a 25-3 national championship squad.

"In the first place we had a person in the middle (Lucas) who passed the ball around," said Taylor, who now serves as manager of The Golf Club, an exclusive, all-male country club northeast of Columbus. "He gave it up. He was extremely unselfish.

"In fact, sometimes I think we lost the ball because of his unwillingness to shoot it himself. Because of that, everyone knew that if they made their proper moves in the offense and were open, they were going to get it back.

"And, I think it helped us their freshman year that we kept them with our practices. In fact, my first year, certain things we did on offense were done with these kids in mind.

"So they had the benefit of practicing for a year, not only against the varsity, but also working with things they would be doing the next year."

Taylor put his varsity up against the freshman six times in full scrimmages that season. The varsity won the first four, but the last two went to the freshmen.

"That to me is evidence why freshmen shouldn't be eligible today," said Taylor. "I think it's putting an excessive burden on their shoulders."

One of Taylor's projects was converting Larry Siegfried, the Buckeyes' leading scorer the previous season, into a playmaker.

"Siegfried had been the leading scorer the year before," said Taylor. "He came to realization that probably wasn't going to happen this year, but he could achieve a great deal of recognition by playing the other end of the floor and literally being the floor leader.

"And, of course, Havlicek went on record as a freshman saying he felt he could make the club as a defensive player."

All through his Ohio State career, Havlicek, who was a first team all-America as a senior and went on to be one of the all-time NBA greats with the Boston Celtics, was the Buckeyes' top defender, usually guarding the opposition's top offensive threat.

"I took a different approach," Havlicek confirmed by telephone from his Boston area home. "Of the five freshmen who came in, if you added up all our high school averages, it was something like 150 points per game. I knew that wasn't going to take place.

"Fred (Taylor) wasn't that much concerned with offense. He stressed defense. So, I figured if I could pick up on what he was trying to get across, I could make the team. I knew I wouldn't be a liability offensively. I knew what I could do.

"When I was in high school, I played defense and also averaged about 20 rebounds a game. I felt if you were going to play the game, you should be good at all phases."

Havlicek didn't start his first collegiate game, riding the bench in favor of senior co-captain Dick Furry. But six minutes into the game, Havlicek made his first appearance he started the final 83 games of his career.

The 6-8 Lucas, who averaged 17.2 rebounds per game, 24.3 points and shot .624 from the field for his career, got most of the team's publicity. He was a two-time winner of the UPI player-of-the-year award.

Havlicek says that was no problem.

"It didn't bother us because Jerry didn't flaunt it," said Havlicek, who roomed with Lucas as a freshman. "He was the type of person who would rather not have had the publicity, but there was nothing he could do about it."

Taylor used primarily six players, with Roberts and Furry, splitting the other forward spot, and the other two freshmen--guard Gary Gearhart and forward Bobby Knight--usually the second and third players off the bench.

Knight, now the controversial head coach at Indiana, was known in those days more for his line-drive jump shooting than the defense which led to his coaching reputation.

"The thing about these kids," said Taylor, "is they played a lot better defensively than a lot of people realized because of the number of points they scored (averaged 90.4 per game). Other teams got the ball back so quickly.

"But, they had a margin of 21 or 23 points between what they scored and what they granted."

Ohio State's three losses that year were at Kentucky, at Utah and at Indiana, in one of only two Big Ten games the Buckeyes lost in three years, both of them the final game of the regular season.

"They never lost a conference game until after they had won the championship," said Taylor. "That's impossible when you think about that. Never lost a game when the issue was in doubt."

In 1960, you had to win the conference championship to get into the NCAA Tournament, with no at-large berths available.

Ohio State breezed through the Mideast Regional at Louisville's Freedom Hall with wins over Western Kentucky, 98-79, although trailing much of that game, and over Georgia Tech, 86-69.

The Buckeyes were matched against New York University in the semifinals, while defending California and Darrell Imhoff and Cincinnati, led by Oscar Robertson, met in the other semifinal.

"We'd heard so much about NYU, we really didn't pay any attention to what was going on in the other bracket," said Taylor. "We thought we had to concern ourselves with Satch Sanders and NYU."

Ohio State brushed aside Sanders and the Violets 76-54, but was still considered the underdog going into the title game against the Golden Bears of Coach Pete Newell, a man Taylor claims he will "admire forever."

"We'd heard so much about their reverse post action," said Taylor, so we had to do something about that.

"At the other end of the floor, we decided we were going to take it to the middle. Imhoff had such a reputation at defending the basket, but we were just cocky enough to try it."

With the 37-19 lead, Taylor said his halftime talk was "in terms of re-establishing our game. We didn't want to get overly cautious. We didn't want want to try sitting on the ball, with the full realization we weren't going to be that fortunate shooting the second half."

For Havlicek, who know owns three fast food restaurants and also is involved with several other firms in various capacities, one thing sticks out after 25 years.

"The thing I remember most," said Havlicek, "is the day we left for San Francisco, I had cut my fingers on my right hand in a dorm accident. I had 10 stitches taken in my fingers and I was very concerned about that.

"The thing that was so amazing," added Havlicek, "is the incredible percentage we were shooting at the half. We had only missed three shots and I had missed two of them."

Could that Ohio State team excel in today's collegiate game?

"It's always tough to try to put someone in a different time zone," said Taylor. "I think most of the kids feel like they could. They didn't make a whole heck of a lot of mistakes."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
71°