Friar Basketball

A Look Back: PC vs. UConn in 1982

Old School Civic Center ESPN

1982. Head coach Joe Mullaney had just returned to Providence in the earliest days of the Big East. This was Year Three for the conference and it marked a breakthrough, as Georgetown became the first school in league history to reach the Final Four.

The Hoyas, led by outstanding freshman Patrick Ewing, fell 63-62 to a North Carolina team featuring 1982 1st overall pick James Worthy and freshman Michael Jordan in the national championship. But you knew that.

The league was close to placing one or two more teams in the Final Four that year — a win away to be precise. Both Boston College and Villanova made the regional finals, with the Eagles coming up short (99-92) against Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and Villanova falling to UNC (70-60).

The future was bright for the young Big East. The league’s all freshman team featured Ewing, future hall of famer Chris Mullin of St. John’s, and Villanova’s Ed Pinckney.

Ewing starred in three Final Fours, winning a national title in 1984. Pinckney played in the regional final in both his freshman and sophomore seasons before breaking through his senior year with a national championship over Ewing and his Hoyas. Mullin’s St. John’s club was the third Big East team to reach the Final Four in 1985, a feat no conference has matched since.

Despite the emerging success of the Big East, the early 80s were grim for Providence. After finishing 0-6 in league play in the first season of league play, PC went 3-11 in conference games in 1980-81, and were in the midst of a 10-17 (2-12) campaign in ’82 when UConn came to town.

The bright spots for the Friars were sophomore big man Otis Thorpe and Ron Jackson, a guard who had transferred in from Roxbury Community College. Jackson averaged 16.3 points in his first season in black and white, while Thorpe averaged over 14 points and eight rebounds.

Thorpe would go on to have likely the second best NBA career of any Friar (behind hall of famer Lenny Wilkens). Thorpe made the All Star Game in 1992 and was a starter on the 1994 Houston Rockets team that won the title. At one point, he played in over 540 consecutive games, which set an NBA record at the time.

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I grew up watching Thorpe in Houston, but this was my first time seeing Thorpe, Jackson, and the Friars of the early 80s.

They were matched up with the pre-Calhoun era Huskies featuring Corny Thompson, who was one of the most sought-after big man in the country in high school. Thompson, a Connecticut native, chose to stay close to home.

This was such a fun watch — up until about the 4:30 mark of the second half.

Connecticut dominated the first half, but Providence raced back to pull within a bucket with about five minutes to play. Jackson was terrific, knocking down deep jumpers and scoring on off-balance shots in the paint. At one point he palmed the ball in the air and banked a shot home from about 10 feet.

Billy Fields hit two deep shots late, while Thorpe was a presence on both ends inside.

This was the pre-shot clock era and it was painful down the stretch.

Up two points with 4:30 left, UConn was content to pass the ball around the perimeter for the final 4:30 of the game. PC finally fouled them, Connecticut missed the free throw, and then Fields tied it at 45-45 with 1:45 to go.

UConn held the ball for the next — you guessed it — 1:40 before missing late as the game went to overtime.

Providence won the tip in OT and it appeared as though their strategy was to pass the ball around the perimeter for the full five minutes and then take the final shot. That went out the window though when Thorpe lost the ball out of bounds after almost three minutes of handoffs and perimeter passes.

On the other end, Connecticut held the ball until the closing seconds.

Len Berman was announcing the game with Bill Raftery and called it from the perspective of the fans. Here are some of Berman’s best lines over the final three minutes:

“We have played three minutes and eight seconds of overtime without a single shot. This is hold ball.”

“80 seconds remain. Somebody shoot!”

“Those rims and nets are icing up. No action.”

“60 seconds remain in overtime and we haven’t had a shot. 45-45,” then Raftery interjected with, “It’s a referee’s delight though. Count for seconds and stand still.”

More from Berman, “I’m glad I’m not doing this game on radio. Imagine having to do the play-by-play here. Nothing! At least you can watch the nothing here on television. 40 seconds. Somebody shoot.”

The stalling ruined what was otherwise a very fun watch. Connecticut benefitted from a dubious out of bounds call with :04 left in overtime. The Huskies had just missed a jumper and it was clearly off of Connecticut.

They were rewarded the ball and tipped home a missed jumper at the final horn.

Additional quick notes:

  • Fun/amazing to see Jim Burr referring a game in 1982. Ditto for Raftery calling it.
  • For a Friar fan who never got to watch Mullaney, it was a treat to see him on the sidelines, even during an unsuccessful second stint at PC.
  • If this game is any indication, Jackson could play in any generation. He was terrific. This game came in the midst of a streak of seven games in which Jackson led Providence in scoring. That included 29 against Boston College and 30 versus St. John’s.
  • During the introduction Berman and Raftery spoke of how Providence and Dayton had just played a five overtime game, which I was not aware of. After seeing the stalling strategy used in the PC/UConn game, that suddenly seemed far less unbelievable.
  • The Friars snapped a five game losing streak with a win over URI, then upset Georgetown before the five OT game against Dayton. What a tough stretch for PC — losing at the buzzer in overtime after falling in five OTs three days prior. They went on to lose six of their final seven regular season games.
  • I loved PC’s PA announcer during the starting lineups.
  • Karl Hobbs was at point guard for the Huskies. Hobbs won a national title as an assistant at UConn, was the head man at George Washington, and teamed with Ewing at Cambridge Rindge and Latin in high school.
  • There were some tremendous crowd shots. I pulled together a bunch of them below.
  • I don’t ever want to hear about the current Friar mascot scaring kids ever again.

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: A Look Back: PC vs. UConn in 1982 – Gamer Heaven

  2. manuel m pacheco

    March 27, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    Still looking for a projection on next years roster 20-21 Thank you for all you do. MANNY

  3. John B.

    March 29, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    It seemed like every time I tuned into a Big East game in the 80’s and 90’s Jim Burr was doing the game! Believe it or not in 1982 Jim was already well into his collegiate officiating career, the 1976-1977 season being his rookie year in D1. He officiated for 39 seasons eventually announcing his retirement in the summer of 2015 at the age of 68. I believe he refereed in 17 Final Four’s and seven NCAA championship games. If you knew Jim (as I do) you would understand immediately what made him such a great official; he was tough guy who wouldn’t take any b.s. for anyone, player or coach.The official to Jim’s right is Hank Nichols, another of the all-time great officials who is in the Naismith BB HOF. Those Big East battles were about as good as it gets…great memories.

  4. Kevin Farrahar

    March 29, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Great memories, John. Thanks for sharing.

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