This article was originally published on March 10, 2016. It has been republished in its original format below.
The 1967-68 men's basketball team remains etched in Columbia history as the only squad to win the Ivy title. The Lions then reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Davidson 61-59 in overtime. More importantly, they helped unite the campus from December until March before riots that rocked the University to its core broke out in April.
Jim Gardner, CC '70, WKCR Broadcaster: It wasn't just a basketball season. The campus was in turmoil. There was tremendous political polarization. People were sort of at war with each other, and after the basketball season was over, it was only a matter of three or four weeks before everything blew up. For the months prior to that, these disparate components of the University were unified in a sense, supporting this basketball team. The contrasts were obvious, although I don't know that we appreciated it at the time because we didn't know what was going to happen a couple months down the road.
Jack Rohan, CC '53, head coach: The thing that I probably remember more than the national ranking, the festival, winning the championship, beating Princeton in a playoff, [and] doing so well in the Eastern Regionals was the unbelievable spirit that this team created on this Columbia campus. People who later on became so far apart because of the riots, and even at that moment may have been very far apart in political ideology or personal preferences, were seated together, were cheering, were waiting for this team to come back from trips.
A year prior, Jim McMillian, CC '70, and Heyward Dotson, CC '70, played on the freshman team, and Dave Newmark, CC '68, missed the season with a serious wrist injury. Columbia had finished 11-14, 6-8 Ivy, but had been more competitive than most people expected, setting the stage for a record-setting 1967-68 campaign.
Rohan: I thought we were going to be a good, strong team. I got the feeling that some teams were going to be so strong that we would be fortunate to finish fourth, but I thought the team could be very good. Whether or not we were good enough to beat Princeton—who in my opinion was phenomenal—was certainly gonna be a question, but I thought we were gonna be capable of being in there.
Jim Miller, CC '70, WKCR Broadcaster: There were definitely high expectations, because obviously at that point in time, freshmen didn't play, but everyone had watched McMillian and Dotson play on the freshman team the year before, and we kind of felt that this was going to be a pretty special group. I think the hope was they could be Ivy League contenders, but I think sixth or seventh in the country wasn't probably something that people were thinking about at the time.
Jonathan Schiller, CC '69, JD '73, member of team: So much was expected of us, not by the press. It wasn't like this year where the Times wrote about us. It was that we had high expectations because Dave Newmark was an unstoppable 7-foot center who could shoot jump shots like nobody's business and Jimmy McMillian was the toughest guy you'd ever want to play against. He was unstoppable, and nobody could get by him on defense. And if you ran into Roger [Walaszek], you were sore for a week. Toughness was what Columbia basketball was all about.
[But] all great teams really begin with great coaches, and Jack Rohan was really a great college coach, at least in the period when we played for him. He emphasized more than anything else defense and intelligence on the court. The thing that you won't know is that he patterned our defense on Coach Wooden's defense at UCLA, and so we played a zone press from the first tip and the first possession.
Gerry Sherwin, CC '55, fan: [Hall of Fame head coach Pete] Carril thought he was a terrific coach. He went to NYU and coached there. He preached defense.
Miller: Jack basically was a Columbia guy. He played under Lou Rossini, who at that point in time was the coach at NYU and had been the coach at Columbia when they won the Ivy League title back in the '50s.
Schiller: The thing that our coach would say to us was—it was a funny expression, but he had been in the Army himself during the Korean War—'Don't wake up someday in the Army and wish that you'd played harder one of these Ivy League games.' But the point was well taken, and that was, you should feel so fortunate to step on this beautiful court and play for this great school.
The Lions opened the season with a 78-57 road victory over Lehigh. The Light Blue then returned home to notch a trio of victories over CCNY, Rutgers, and NYU.
Alan Zucker, CC '68, head team manager: We played really lousy teams and played really lousy. Newmark was completely outplayed by Jeff Kaiser of CCNY—not exactly a household name. Interesting thing is that Newmark sat out the year before with a [wrist] injury. He needed a lot of recovery.
Then, we went up to Cornell, and Cornell had a good team. In those days, there were three Ivy teams in the national top 20—Columbia, Princeton, and Cornell. Cornell gave us a good old-fashioned whupping. They had three really good players—Greggory Morris, Hank South, and Walter Esdaile.
Schiller: But what really pissed me off was losing to Georgetown, because for me it was a homecoming. We should never have lost that game, and then we came back and lost again at Fordham.
Zucker: Should've been 7-0, but we were 4-3 going into the Holiday Festival, and no one is going to think about a 4-3 team. At that point, I think the guys realized that, 'Hey, you know, what we're doing ain't working.' It was an incredibly bright group of kids. You had a Rhodes Scholar [Dotson], you had two Rhodes Scholar candidates. That was part of the problem—it was sort of that they had to overcome the individuality to be a cohesive team, but I think they were bright enough to realize that had to play together better.
The Holiday Festival, at that time, was the most important in-season tournament of any in the country. You had a great roster of teams. Several top-10 teams in there—Boston College, coached by Bill Cousy, St. John's, Penn State, West Virginia, Cincinnati—most important tournament of all. So, we had West Virginia, and they had a great ballplayer named Ron Williams.
Schiller: The West Virginia team was very, very, very fast, but they gave the ball up to us. You see that we scored 98 points in the [98-71 victory]. That's an enormous number of points where there's no threes being shot. A lot of those were steals and pressure leading to fast break layups.
The Lions' next matchup in Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden was No. 2 Louisville, headlined by guard Butch Beard and center Wes Unseld, who won the NBA MVP just a year later.
Zucker: It was just a very tight game all the way. They had us by a point near the end of the game, and then we ran off the final eight points of the game to beat them by seven.
Gardner: I think Columbia was a 17-point underdog. What was really funny to me was that [Madison Square] Garden was sold out, and when it was obvious that Columbia was going to cover the 17-point spread—and it was still a very close game—but with about seven, eight minutes to go, half of the Garden cleared out. Everyone goes there just to bet on the game.
Schiller: The Louisville game was maybe Dave's finest game, where he shot over Unseld, he went around Unseld. He'd got out to the high post, and [McMillian] and [Walaszek] would drive through that team.
Zucker: [After that game] Butch Beard said the only player that defended him better was Jo Jo White, and Jo Jo White became an NBA All-Pro with the Celtics. When [Dotson] rose to the occasion, he was as good as anyone in the country.
Miller: [Dotson], not your classic point guard in today's terms—well-regarded for being able to pass the ball, setting teammates up, and get shots for himself, even though he wasn't a great outside shooter.
Sherwin: I mean to beat Wes Unseld … but then we beat St. John's. It was a low-scoring game, and that was a good St. John's team. Each game you get yourself up for it, saying, 'I just hope that we make a good showing.' But that's when we realized, I think, we were a really good team. It was also really a team effort.
Zucker: They gave us watches. We had a watch presentation at midcourt. Basketball in the middle, says 'ECAC Holiday Festival,' and on the back, it says, 'Winner 1967.' My mother used to joke, 'Those poor St. John's boys, they probably had watches that said 'Losers 1967.''"
Columbia then reeled off five Ivy wins to begin the New Year. At 5-1 in the Ancient Eight, they trailed Princeton, then 5-0 in the Ivy League, by half a game before a showdown at University Gym.
Zucker: I think that when people came back from vacation, they knew we had something special. Sports Illustrated had an article about us—that [win] put us in the top-10 ranking. We just took off in the league season. We wound up with the best-for, best-against margin in the entire country—just tore through the league until that Princeton game.
Miller: The next crisis came when Newmark, our 7-foot center, hurt his ankle [in practice] right before our road weekend with Brown and Yale. Yale was a pretty good team—not at Columbia and Princeton's level, but a pretty good team—and we were tied for first with Princeton. And we went into Yale, we won. It was a hard-fought game.
After the game … word starts to spread that Dartmouth had beaten Princeton. Huge upset, which gave us a one-game lead and a little bit of a cushion going into that last game against Princeton. It was the last Saturday night of the season. It was Princeton's last season in Dillon Gym, the gym that they played in before Jadwin was built. But without Newmark, and Princeton was a terrific team at that point, we couldn't quite hold on and win.
Schiller: [Geoff] Petrie and [John] Hummer, and they had a center named [Chris Thomforde]. He was a 6-foot-11 guy. They were very, very good. Both teams played their hearts out. They were our rivals, as I look back at it. Maybe it was because the Hummers went there, who I always wanted to beat. I liked them, played summer basketball with them every summer for four, five years in Washington, and loved the opportunity to play against Princeton.
Gardner: [For] those of us who were living and dying with this team, it was brutal.
That loss set up a one-game playoff at a neutral site between Columbia and Princeton to decide the Ivy title. The contest was held at Alumni Hall in Jamaica, New York, then-home of St. John's.
Gardner: The night that Columbia beat Princeton at St. John's in the playoff [92-74] was extraordinary. The entire campus was just joyful and gleeful.
Zucker: It was virtually a home game for us. I don't know why Princeton ever agreed to play it at St. John's, but it was definitely a home crowd.
Miller: A couple of things that happened before that: People used to watch practice at the old gym, and Monday afternoon, I remember I went over there and watched practice. You'd watch it on the running track overlooking the gym, and the running track was packed with people watching practice. Newmark was out there practicing, which was the key event.
That night there was a totally spontaneous pep rally out by the Sundial. Many of the guys from the team was there. One of the things I do remember is Jim McMillian speaking to the crowd and saying something to the effect of, 'John Hummer is not going to go out and score 30 points tomorrow night when we play in the playoff game.'
Rohan on pregame show on March 5: At the present time, Dave [Newmark] is capable of moving with some effectiveness. I think he's limited—I don't know how well he can move defensively, but we're gonna find out mighty fast because we're gonna start him tonight.
Miller: Newmark started, hit a layup in his first shot, and that was one of [the] plays that kind of told you that it was our night.
Schiller: It just built upon the tough games of the preceding couple of weeks. Basket-for-basket exchange. [Jimmy] was unstoppable. He had only—I mean only—two very great shots. We'll call it a jump shot. It was sort of a pullback, right-handed shot. Half set, half jump. And he had a drive. He'd do one or the other.
Jim McMillian, CC '70: I said I was gonna put on my Superman costume in the first half, and I guess I had it on. I guess we all had it on.
Rohan: I just feel like sitting down in a corner right now and having a good cry.
Miller: A lot of Columbia fans got to St. John's early, and you can tell that even though it was technically a neutral court, two-thirds of the fans were Columbia fans. I think coach Rohan commented in the postgame show, 'Listen to the crowd. We can't go out and let these people down.'
The Lions then headed to Cole Field House at the University of Maryland to battle La Salle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Schiller: La Salle had won the Big Five. Their top guard was an All-American named Bernie Williams, who was the top player from DeMatha, and along with Lew Alcindor, was one of the top-five kids in college basketball at that time. Our defense again stopped La Salle. It slowed down their offense and led to a lot of breakaway layups and a lot of steals.
Gardner: That was primarily because of Heyward. He had a really great game. I don't think anyone was intimidated coming down to the Coliseum in Raleigh.
I think Davidson—they were a nationally prominent team, and they had two kids [Mike Maloy and Wayne Huckel] and then you had Driesell, who was already something of an iconic coach even before he went to Maryland—but I think there was a certain confidence that, you know, 'We'll get by them, and then the big challenge is North Carolina.'
However, what Columbia saw as yet another stop en route to the Elite Eight became one of the most heartbreaking losses in program history, with the Lions falling to Davidson 61-59 in overtime.
Zucker: We played horribly, trailed the whole game. We tied it up, and we're bringing the ball back up with a just couple of seconds left on the clock, and they fouled [Bruce] Metz. He was on the line shooting a 1-and-1 with like one second left on the clock.
We come back to the huddle, and everyone is feeling pretty good, like we dodged a bullet. Bruce goes to the line, and Lefty Driesell calls another timeout. The coach is all talked out. So, he's not even saying anything. I can just feel the tension tightening like a knot, and I kind of regret—I was a whimpy, little kid—not saying something like, 'You believe this guy—you think he can psych us out?' I was just the manager.
Everyone went back to the line much tighter. Bruce, his shot went up, and it was short, off the front of the rim. I happened to be sitting at the end of the bench, right opposite the basket, and I saw Dave Newmark, our 7-foot center, go up over Mike Malloy, who was their center. He had a clear shot at the tap.
All he had to do was extend his palm up the way Jack Rohan had yelled at him in practice every day. And he didn't. He went with his palm out. He got position, but he just jammed the ball against the rim instead of tapping it up so it would drop in. So, it went to overtime, and we lost by two points.
Sherwin: Metz came back actually [when the team was inducted into the Hall of Fame], and I think he still felt the pressures of losing, that it was his fault.
Zucker: He was kind of sitting by the pool the next day, and no one wanted to go near him the next day because he was so distraught.
Miller: The following night, our consolation game was against St. Bonaventure, which had [future NBA Hall of Famer] Bob Lanier and was undefeated in the regular season. They had lost to North Carolina the night before, and we just clobbered them by 20 points.
Gardner: Dave Newmark and Bob Lanier basically cancelled each other out. It was a wash between those two. Newmark was still not himself because he was still hurt. The rest of the guys played without tension, without anxiety.
They really played well, and that was it.