A throwback week in South Carolina basketball begins Wednesday when the Gamecocks host old Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia at Colonial Life Arena.
After USC plays Clemson on Saturday, it’ll complete the program’s first two-game stretch against ACC opponents since 1996. Of course, this used to be the norm in these parts.
From 1953-71, South Carolina was a member of the Tobacco Road-based league. And when Frank McGuire was guiding the Gamecocks against the likes of Duke and North Carolina, Columbia very much reflected an ACC town.
“If you had driven around Columbia before McGuire got here and then driven around after he was here,” said Bob Cole, a former sports writer for The State, “you would see such a proliferation of basketball goals over garages, in driveways. They just exploded.
“Of course, McGuire was a Catholic and all of his players were Catholics from New York City. Every time they would go to the line to shoot free throws, they would cross themselves. And you would see all these little kids in the youth programs around Columbia start crossing themselves. Of course, most of them weren’t Catholic at all.”
“We could put 10,000 people in a practice,” said former USC guard Bob Carver. “Every game was sold out and we had great teams.”
But a chunk of that hoops hysteria died after South Carolina left the ACC in the summer of 1971. The Gamecocks became an independent and annual bouts with the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, Terrapins, Wolfpack, Demon Deacons and Cavaliers were no longer.
A well-over-capacity crowd. A last-second shot that took down a top 10 team. A couple technical fouls, a couple media members — media members! — ejected. A controversial call. A foreshadowing quote from McGuire.
Following is the story, told in the words of those who played and covered it, of Virginia’s wild 50-49 win over South Carolina — and its significant aftermath.
The Gamecocks entered the 1970-71 season as the No. 2 team in the country. Behind All-American guard John Roche and a cast of talented New Yorkers, USC got off to an eventful 10-1 start. On Dec. 5, it beat No. 5 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. On Dec. 20, it beat No. 5 Western Kentucky in Columbia. In between, the Gamecocks had a blowout victory over Maryland marred by a brawl that’s most famous for John Ribock’s apparent punch to the face of Terrapins coach Lefty Driesell
Bill Millsaps, sports writer for The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch: Ribock was the enforcer. He wasn’t a bad player, but he was out there for muscle. He wasn’t too subtle about it either. Ribock triggered a near-riot against Maryland, where somebody decked Lefty and McGuire said Lefty must have hit himself. It was Ribock who decked Lefty.
Yeah, they were the bully boys before the Philadelphia Flyers came to Broad Street. They were the villains everywhere in the ACC. Everywhere.
Bob Cole, sports writer for The State newspaper: I always thought they were their own worst enemies. It seemed to me they had this Us against Them mentality, which I think was fostered by McGuire.
Everywhere they went, the crowds were more intensive in terms of their hostility towards the team. And, again, I thought for the most part, the coach and the players fostered that attitude. I thought it was pretty pervasive throughout the league.
Barry Parkhill, Virginia guard: They had some incidents, I guess, that year, but they were good players and seemed like good guys. They were always just nationally ranked and very good.
Dennis Powell, South Carolina center: I don’t know if the reputation was really founded. We obviously were just winning quite a bit in North Carolina. And you had Wake Forest, Duke, UNC, Maryland and Virginia all in that area.
Bob Carver, South Carolina guard: Coach McGuire was from the North and we were dominating the league with players from the North. People wouldn’t play against us. They held the ball. Coach always thought the officials went against us. We were a tough crowd and we played tough.
In the ACC days, South Carolina would play at Maryland and Virginia on the same trip. Because of what happened in the first game, tensions were high for Gamecocks-Terrapins Round 2. McGuire chose to leave USC assistants Donnie Walsh and Bill Loving back in Columbia. Injured guard Bob Carver filled in as McGuire’s de-facto assistant.
Carver: There were a lot of threats made against the coaching staff and all that, so Coach McGuire decided not to take the assistant coaches on the trip with him. Sometimes he did things to make a point. On the face of it, he was concerned that they were family guys and didn’t want to put them in jeopardy. I never understood why they didn’t make the trip, but that was his decision. So they stayed home.
The pre-shot clock era game in College Park ended with a Maryland bucket at the buzzer. Final score: Terrapins 31, Gamecocks 30 (OT).
Kevin Joyce, South Carolina guard: It was 4-3 at halftime.
Carver: We had a five-point lead at Maryland with, really, 16 seconds to go or something like that. A couple turnovers, a couple baskets. Maryland really didn’t play with us.
Joyce: Stall-ball. That happened to us 17 times that year. It really wasn’t a fun basketball season. We came out and won the ACC championship and all that, but we couldn’t really show our talents or anything like that.
The loss to Maryland dropped the Gamecocks from No. 2 to No. 6 in the polls. Virginia meanwhile was coming off a win over Clemson. At 8-2 entering the USC game, the Cavaliers were seeking their first national ranking in program history. Charlottesville’s University Hall, capacity 7,600 at the time, squeezed in 9,550 spectators.
Parkhill: I think that was the largest-paying crowd ever in University Hall. There were people in every friggin’ nook and cranny of that building. We pretty much played in front of a full house my three years, but that game was different. It was crazy. It was great. The place was nuts.
The student section, as I was told, was full early afternoon because it was first-come, first-serve. When the ball went up, the kids were ready to roll because they had been sitting there all afternoon. That was pretty cool. It meant a lot to all of us as players.
Millsaps: Most of the time, for many years, it was a big victory if Virginia played the game close. Well, this crowd realized they were good enough to make a game of it. They were hot — not only because of South Carolina’s national ranking, but because they were the bullies of the ACC. It was some kind of game atmosphere. It got wild.
Powell: The place was packed. They were right on top of us.
As the first half wore on, McGuire grew irritated by a few hecklers.
Carver: A guy was yelling and screaming at him the whole game, loud, saying some inappropriate things. I don’t remember exactly what he was saying, but was standing up and he was screaming. Coach McGuire, without looking across the way, asked me to pick out the guy that was yelling at him.
Cole: They were playing, the ball was in motion and, all of a sudden, McGuire gets up from his chair and starts walking around the end of the court, kind of where they were playing. The players, they continued to move the ball some, but they slowed down because they were watching him.
Parkhill: I’m just paying attention, trying not to dribble the ball of my foot or whatever. And Coach McGuire walks down to the end of the bench and now I’m sort of looking like, ‘This is a little unusual.’ And then he starts walking across the baseline. And then they stopped play.
Joyce: He walked to the press area. There was somebody there that had credentials to be sitting there, but was openly rooting, pounding on the boards there and stuff like that.
Carver: Coach went after that guy. And believe me, if he had gotten a hold of that guy, that would have been the last thing he would have remembered for a long time. Coach was a pretty rough guy.
Millsaps: McGuire was giving him hell for yelling at his players. And Barney Cooke, who was then the sports information director for Virginia, came down, found out what was going on and threw his (butt) off press row.
*John Hedberg, sports writer for the Staunton (Va.) Leader: I sometimes get carried away at games. I know I shouldn’t be cheering for our team.
Reports of the game included Hedberg’s ejection as well as the removal of Charlottesville Daily Progress photographer John Atkins. The AP story noted that “Gamecock center Tom Riker engaged a photographer in a shoving match.” Technical fouls were assessed to South Carolina for McGuire leaving the bench and to Virginia for its fans throwing objects on the court.
The Gamecocks led 32-28 at halftime and 49-48 with 2:10 left when Joyce was called for traveling.
*Frank McGuire, South Carolina coach: You wouldn’t see a call like that again in a hundred years. That call was the big thing in the game. Our kids are all right and I’m sure they’ll come back. But we just can’t win under the conditions that now exist in the ACC. I don’t know what this is all about. Maybe it had something to do with the talk about South Carolina getting out of the league.
Carver: Coach McGuire called timeout and wanted to know if we wanted to foul or just D it up and play. We were up 49-48, but I guess he felt like even if they made the two shots, we’d get the ball back. At least have some control. I’m not sure of the strategy of that. But the players, particularly Roche, said, ‘No, we just lost at the buzzer. What’s the chances of losing back-to-back at the buzzer?’ So we decided to D up on them.
Parkhill hit a 12-footer with seven seconds left.
Parkhill: I got the ball on the right side. They started to clear out and luckily the shot went in.
Carver: Kevin Joyce was playing Parkhill. He backed him in. Barry was a very good player. He he hit a turnaround jumper. He was really good at that. He had good length and he backed Kevin up — they were both about the same size — and he put it in.
Joyce: I was all over him. It was a great shot. Barry, he’s a friend of mine. As a matter of fact, he rubbed it more in my face when he told me his parents had a photo of the shot in their living room.
Parkhill’s bucket was UVa’s eighth in 11 second half field goal attempts. The Cavaliers shot 65 percent for the game. When USC’s Rick Aydlett missed a contested jumper on the other end, the buzzer sounded and the floor filled with fans.
Powell: I can see Rick falling into the crowd.
Millsaps: I got trampled. Everybody who sat at the press table got trampled. Fans were everywhere. I’m just glad nobody got hurt in the aftermath of the thing.
Carver: That wasn’t a lot of fun.
Parkhill: Rick Aydlett’s a great friend. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but he’s a really good friend. He worked at Converse for many years. But we won the game. Looking back, that was a big win. But that stretch, I think it proved that we could win in the league. We could be competitive. That was an important moment in the history of basketball here.
Virginia debuted at No. 19 in the next poll. The Cavaliers made their first NIT the next season. They were ACC champs in ‘76 and Final Four bound in ‘81 and ‘84. UVa has now made the NCAA Tournament 22 times.
After the Virginia loss, South Carolina reeled off 13 wins in 14 games, including the ACC Tournament championship over North Carolina. It was USC’s final appearance in the league. Athletics director/football coach Paul Dietzel officially led the Gamecocks out of the ACC in the summer of ‘71. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament eight times since. They went 43 years between Big Dance wins before the surprise Final Four run in 2017.
Carver: There was a lot of things Coach McGuire didn’t like about the academic requirements in the ACC, but there was more of a football motivation for leaving the league. Dietzel, he wanted to build a powerhouse and he felt like he could do it better as an independent — whether Coach McGuire knew about it or not.
We were all playing in the gym one day and Donnie Walsh came in and said, ‘You guys, we just left the league. Coach McGuire’s on the phone trying to fill out your schedule.’
Powell: I didn’t think it was a good idea, personally, as a 20-plus-year-old senior. I personally thought we should have stayed because we just won the ACC. We were really doing well recruiting. I just thought we were better off there. You become an independent at that time was not probably the way to go.
Joyce: We didn’t want out. It was not going to be good for the basketball program.
Cole: I’ve thought about it many times and it’s really hard to assess what would have happened had they stayed.
Carver: It would have been a better story. It would have been a better run. We had established ourselves with those teams as someone to contend with.
*quotes taken from the Jan. 12, 1971, edition of The State newspaper.