MSU, Loyola meet in rematch of landmark game

Mississippi State’s basketball team had to sneak out of state to

play a 1963 NCAA tournament game against Loyola of Chicago.

The travel itinerary won’t be nearly so complicated this


Saturday’s game between Mississippi State (3-5) and Loyola (6-3)

in Chicago will be celebrated as a reminder of the landmark contest

between that helped change race relations on the basketball


The all-white Bulldogs had turned down invitations to play in

the NCAA Tournament in previous seasons because of an unwritten

Mississippi law that forbade teams to play integrated opponents.

But in 1963, after winning the Southeastern Conference

championship, Mississippi State coach Babe McCarthy and others in

the university’s leadership helped facilitate a secret trip to East

Lansing, Mich., to allow Mississippi State a chance to play


Loyola won the game 61-51 and went on to beat two-time defending

champion Cincinnati for the NCAA championship one week later.

The score was mostly a footnote compared to the historical

significance of the game. Though it hasn’t received the same

publicity as other notable contests, such as Texas Western’s win

over Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA championship, it’s become more

appreciated in recent years.

Loyola’s Jerry Harkness – a guard on that 1963 team – referred

to the game as ”the beginning of the end of segregation” in 2008.

The NCAA picked the game as one of the 25 defining moments in the

organization’s first 100 years in 2006.

Still, most of the current players from both Mississippi State

and Loyola admitted they had no clue about that 1963 game until

recently watching a documentary about it.

”It’s unreal to think about everything those guys had to go

through just to play a 40-minute basketball game,” Loyola senior

guard Jordan Hicks said. ”The amount of respect of I have for what

they went through is huge … Being African-American myself, it’s a

remarkable story. I couldn’t imagine living in a world like


Mississippi State defied intense political pressure to play in

that NCAA tournament – even dodging an injunction that would have

prohibited the team from leaving the state. McCarthy left for

Tennessee and Mississippi State President Dean Colvard left the

state for a speaking engagement in Alabama days before the game –

and also before the injunction could be served. After the coach and

president left town, a group of trainers and the team’s reserves

quietly slipped away to an airport in Starkville, Miss.

When that group met no opposition at the airport, they called

for an assistant coach and the starters to join the rest of the

team in Starkville. The team flew to Nashville to pick up McCarthy

and head to the NCAA tournament.

”I love history and when you start really learning the dynamics

– it’s an incredible story,” current Loyola coach Porter Moser

said. ”Then getting to know the guys – people like Jerry Harkness

– and have them talk to the team is just a privilege. You can’t

forget you’re dealing with young people and take advantage of

teaching moments.”

Players from both 1963 teams will be in Chicago for Saturday’s

game. Many have become friends since the first reunion of the game

in 2008.

”We all shook hands after the game and then I figured we’d

never see each other again,” said Doug Hutton, who was a guard on

Mississippi State’s 1963 team. ”So it’s been a lot of fun to get

to know them a little more. It’s good the game is getting some

publicity – seems like it gets bigger every year.”

Hutton said the Bulldogs were simply excited to get a chance in

the NCAA tournament and didn’t give much thought to the

significance of the game. But the dozens of flashbulbs that popped

when Loyola’s Harkness and Mississippi State’s Joe Dan Gold shook

hands at midcourt pregame certainly provided a clue.

Les Hunter, one of the four African-American starters on that

1963 Loyola team, said he remembers a clean, hard-fought game.

”Considering we were just 19, 20 or 21 year olds, I don’t think

we fully understood,” Hutton said. ”We just wanted to play

basketball, and it was a great game. Like most close games between

two good teams, it came down to a few possessions at the end and

Loyola made the plays to win.”

Despite losing, Mississippi State returned to Starkville

triumphant – without having to sneak back into the state. There

were no legal issues awaiting them and no Mississippi State

officials lost their jobs or were punished. The team was greeted

warmly at the airport by hundreds of fans. Hutton said the reaction

around campus was largely positive to the decision to play the


Nonetheless, playing the game didn’t bring about immediate

change, but fifty years later there has been progress.

Mississippi State will be led by an African-American –

first-year coach Rick Ray – on Saturday and the majority of the

Bulldogs’ roster is African-American.

”It was an honor to be a part of that game, but there are also

some mixed emotions,” Hunter said. ”It’s good to know things have

changed so much since that game, but sometimes you wonder why it

couldn’t have happened a little sooner.”


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