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On This Date in Sports March 23, 1963: Oh, Loyola

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Loyola stuns Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime to win the NCAA Championship in Louisville. The Ramblers, coached by George Ireland, were making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, while Cincinnati sought a third straight Championship. Loyola trailed by eight points at halftime as Loyola struggled to find their shot. Cincinnati continued to dominate in the second half, stretching their lead to 45-30 before the Ramblers began fighting back. Taking advantage of Cincinnati's foul trouble, Loyola clawed back from a 12-point deficit with eight minutes left to force overtime. In overtime, Loyola outscored Cincinnati 6-4 to win the game, with Les Hunter leading the way with 16 points. 

George Ireland's Loyola team based out of Chicago shook up the sport by breaking the "Gentleman's Agreement." At the time, schools would have no more than two black players on the floor at the same time; this was an unspoken rule amongst most schools and teams. Loyola often had three or four black players, raising other teams' ire. This included Mississippi State, who had to sneak out of their stare to play Loyola in the Sweet 16. Loyola had a strong season, posting a 24-2 record in the regular season. 

Coached by Ed Jucker, Cincinnati was seeking a third straight NCAA Championship. They posted a 23-1 record in the regular season and were the top-ranked school in the nation. On the way to the Final Four, the Bearcats defeated Texas and Colorado. To reach their third straight championship game, Cincinnati beat Oregon State 80-46.

Loyola entered the tournament ranked third and was in the Mideast Regional. They started the tournament with a 111-42 win over Tennessee Tech to reach the Sweet 16 in East Lansing. The 69-point victory remains the biggest blowout in tournament history. Mississippi State had a first-round bye but was forbidden by their state injunction to play Loyola due to their desegregated lineup. Avoiding the injunction, Mississippi State led Babe McCarthy snuck off campus to get to East Lansing in Michigan for the Regional Semifinals against Loyola. The Ramblers beat Mississippi State 61-51 to advance to the Elite Eight. Loyola defeated Illinois 79-64 to reach the Final Four.


Rounding out the Final Four was Duke, making their first appearance in the Semifinals, and Oregon State. In a high-scoring game, Loyola beat Duke 94-75, as Art Heyman of the Blue Devils was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. 

In the championship game, Loyola started for black players; Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter, Pablo Robertson, and Vic Rouse. The game did not start well for the Ramblers, as they made just one of their first 14 shots from the field. As a result, Cincinnati jumped out to an early 19-9 lead. Cincinnati held a 29-21 lead at the half and looked to be on the verge of pulling away as Ron Bonham scored the first six points of the second half. 

Things looked bleak for Loyola, as they trailed 45-30 with 14 minutes remaining in the game. In the era before the shot clock and three-point shot, deficits this large were often insurmountable. However, while the Ramblers struggled from the field, they did a good job of getting to the free-throw line. While making their shots from the line, Loyola was getting Cincinnati's top players in foul trouble. Leading 48-36, Ed Jucker had his team play stall tactics instead of pressing on offense as he was concerned about Tom Thacker and Tony Yates fouling out. This allowed Loyola to claw their way back into the game, with Jerry Harkness tying it 54-54 on a 12-foot jumper in the final seconds. 


Overtime was tight as neither team wanted to make a big mistake to end the game. With seven seconds left and the game knotted at 58-58, Jerry Harkness passed up an open shot for Les Hunter, who missed, but Vic Rouse put home the rebound to give Loyola the lead. Cincinnati could not answer, as the Ramblers won the National Championship 60-58. 

Loyola's accomplishment was nearly forgotten for 50 years before they were honored by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House in 2013, with the surviving members in attendance. The Ramblers, with their four black starters, helped pave the way for Texas Western, who had a movie made about their 1966 championship. Loyola would also receive induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, though they have yet to join Texas Western in the National Basketball Hall of Fame. 

The 1963 Loyola Ramblers are the last team to win an NCAA Championship in their first tournament appearance. They made a few more appearances but faded into obscurity until 2018, when they made a cinderella run to the Final Four with Sister Jean as their biggest cheerleader.