Friar Basketball

Blizzard? What Blizzard?

gavittsmith

The Friars are playing North Carolina?

When I saw PC’s first round opponent on Selection Sunday my mind immediately flashed back to a week in February of 1978. A week when the entire state of Rhode Island came to a standstill — except for a basketball game.

It all started on Monday morning, February 5. It began snowing, but nobody really thought too much about it. Nothing too serious had been forecast by the weathermen. I had an 8:30 class and then was going to study for a couple of hours while waiting for Dr. Mullen’s American History class. By then, the storm was getting really serious. Dr. Mullen came into the class and told everyone to go home, which is exactly what I did. My father was getting up in years and his health was not the greatest so I did not want to leave him alone in a major snowstorm. It took me three hours to get from the PC parking lot to my father’s house in Warwick but I made it. During the entire trip home I was passing cars left and right that were already stranded, but I made it.

Everyone has heard the rest of the story about the blizzard. Over three feet of snow. Thousands of cars along Route 95 and thousands more stranded in the city of Providence. The entire state was shut down for the rest of the week. Thousands of Rhode Islanders were stranded along with their cars and did not make it home for days. The National Guard had to be called in to dig out cars one by one so the streets could eventually be plowed. Supplies had to be airlifted into Providence College. The only mode of transportation in Rhode Island  that week was the snowmobile.

By the end of the week everyone was getting very restless. A nationally televised basketball game was scheduled on Saturday between PC and North Carolina at the Providence Civic Center. It was decided that the state needed a diversion for a couple of hours and the game would go on as scheduled, with one hitch. The only way you could get to the game was if you walked. And that is exactly what over 7,000 students and fans did — in some cases walking for miles to get to the Civic Center.

There was only one problem. How was the North Carolina team going to get to the Civic Center? A lane was cleared from downtown Providence to T.F. Green Airport and a RIPTA bus was dug out of the snow and sent to pick up the Tar Heels. The University of North Carolina plane was the first non-emergency plane to land at Green that week.

On the bus ride in many of the UNC players, particularly those from the South, were in awe as they saw snow plowed well over their heads on the streets leading into Providence. PC may have won that game right then and there. Eventually the Tar Heels made it to the Civic Center and it was game on.

North Carolina was basketball royalty, even back then. Getting a team of UNC’s caliber to play at the Civic Center was an example of how big PC basketball was in the 1970’s. The Tar Heels were led by All American guard Phil Ford and forward Mike O’Koren and were coached by the legendary Dean Smith. The Friars were led by the senior trio of Bruce Campbell, Bob Miscievous, and Billy Eason along with junior point guard Dwight Williams.

Watching the game on TV (I wanted to walk from Warwick to the Civic Center but my father talked me out of it) you could tell there was something different. I had never heard a crowd so energized on TV. Those 7,000 fans made it sound like there were 20,000 fans squeezed into the Civic Center.

The score was close throughout the game, but with 3:30 left on the clock North Carolina had a lead of  58-52  and went into their vaunted four corners offense. If you are not old enough to remember the four corners it was basically a game of keep away. Four players on offense stood at the four corners of the half court, and the point guard would dribble around and pass the ball keeping it away from the defense. The only time a team playing the four corners looked at the basket was if they had an open layup. Smith and North Carolina was notorious for the four corners and there was no better point guard to run it than Ford. When the Tar Heels went into the four corners it was like Red Auerbach lighting up his cigar. Game over.

Except for this day. David Frye made a three point play down the stretch and Eason hit a five foot jumper with time running down giving the Friars a 61-59 lead. Ford’s jumper from the top of the key clanged off the rim as time ran out and the Friars had another magical victory in their storied history.

More importantly, Rhode Islanders had a couple hours of diversion at the end of an unbelievable week, a couple of hours where they could sit back and cheer the local team to victory without having to think about three feet of snow on the ground and how and when they were going to get back to a normal life.

That was a magical time to be a Friar fan. Kind of like it is becoming once again.

Follow Craig Leighton on Twitter: @CraigL78

Email Craig at Craig.Leighton@friarbasketball.com

 

 

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