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Bucky Beats 'Em


By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com

CHARLESTON, W.VA. (February 7, 1966) -- It was a win Coach Raymond "Bucky" Waters would never forget.

 
  Coach Bucky Waters earned his most memorable victory at WVU against No. 2-ranked Duke in 1966. (WVU Sports Communications)

Just weeks past his 30th birthday, the youthful Waters was in the middle of his first season at West Virginia University when his Mountaineers upset No. 2-ranked Duke 94-90 at the Charleston Civic Center.

For some, it was unbelievable that Waters was leading the Mountaineer basketball program at all.

When George King left West Virginia for Purdue after the 1965 season, the prevailing thought at the time was that athletic director Red Brown would hire an established head coach to preside over West Virginia's nationally ranked basketball program.

As Brown looked more closely at Waters, then Vic Bubas' No. 1 assistant at Duke, he became enamored with his intelligence and enthusiasm.

Waters was a strict disciplinarian. He made his players wear jackets and ties on the road and had their hair cut short. There was no talking at practice, and players had to answer coaches with "No, sir" and "Yes, sir."

His style was contrary to the times, when college students were more apt to listen to gurus like Harvard professor Timothy Leary, who preached the virtues of LSD. Ten thousand miles from home, the Vietnam War was beginning to captivate the minds of students on college campuses, eventually leading to sit-ins, protests and demonstrations.

To Waters this was nonsense.

"The opposite of courage is often not cowardice but conformity," said Waters in a newspaper interview at the time. "That kind of conformity is not what we're looking for on our basketball team."

The West Virginia team Waters took over had just come off the school's first losing season in 21 years, though the Mountaineers did manage to win the Southern Conference tournament and advance to NCAA tournament play.

Sweet-shooting forward John Lesher was the only returning starter from 1965. The Claymont, Del., native averaged 8.0 points per game, and scored a game-high 26 points in the Southern Conference tournament upset of Davidson that propelled the Mountaineers into the NCAAs.

Forward Bill Ryczaj played in 18 games in 1965 and contributed 7.8 points per game, and guard John Cavacini averaged 7.0 points in 20 contests.

Waters added talented junior college transfer Carl Head, and also had the services of touted guard Ron Williams off the freshman team.

Through the first 12 games, West Virginia was just 7-5 before getting hot. WVU won its next seven games and entered the Duke contest at 14-5.

The Blue Devils, on the other hand, had lost just once (at South Carolina) in 16 meetings prior to the game, and boasted two terrific players in All-American Jack Marin and Mike Lewis.

Duke had been No. 1 for eight weeks during the season and was No. 2 when it met West Virginia for a Monday night game in Charleston.

At the game's outset, it appeared to be another Duke rout. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 31-12 lead with 12:02 left in the first half before Bubas mysteriously called off his fullcourt press. West Virginia responded by scoring 30 of the game's next 45 points to close to within three at halftime, 45-42.

During the same time Bubas called off his press, Waters put his on. His "Gangbusters" unit of John Cavacini, Gary Shaffer and Norman Holmes helped ignite a run that got West Virginia back into the game.

"They were running us right out the door," said Waters. "Then we went to our smaller unit."

John Lesher scored 10 points during the stretch including six in a row to close the margin to two with 2:12 left in the half.

Seven more points came from reserve forward Bill Ryczaj, whose offense was usually as good as his defense was bad.

On this night both were good.

At the start of the second half, Duke expanded the lead to eight when Steve Vacendak hit a 15-footer from the baseline with 13:49 left. But West Virginia responded with Gary Shaffer's beautiful 25-footer from the right corner.

Head followed with two free throws and Lesher hit one from the top of the key to make it 59-55 with 12:34 left.

After exchanging baskets, Lesher converted a follow-up to make it 60-59. Ryczaj gave West Virginia its first lead at 61-60 with a 15-foot jumper at the 10:28 mark.

The lead would change hands 11 more times until Lesher's long jumper put the Mountaineers up for good, 83-82 with 2:54 left.

Lesher's two free throws expanded the margin to five with 2:02 left, but Duke fought back and closed the gap to two with :36 left when Joe Kennedy converted a driving layup.

Lesher and Cavacini each nailed four free throws down the stretch to secure the victory for West Virginia.

As the gun sounded, players, students and fans swarmed the court. Right in the middle of the mob was Waters, who greeted his mentor Bubas.

"Nice game, Buck," said Bubas.

Waters couldn't manage a word.

"What could I say to him?" said Waters after the game. "He picked me up by the ears and made me a basketball coach."

"Their press and our foul trouble combined to beat us," commented Bubas.

Three Duke starters -- Bob Verga, Lewis and Marin -- fouled out of the game. Had they not it might have been a different story.

Lesher led West Virginia with a game-high 28 points. Ryczaj poured in 19 off the bench while Cavacini scored 13 and Head had 10.

Williams, who entered the game with a 21.5 scoring average, was held to just nine on 3-15 shooting. Williams did pull down five rebounds and dish out five assists.

The Duke win proved to be Waters' most memorable victory at West Virginia. The Blue Devils posted a 26-4 record that year and advanced to the NCAA Final Four before being knocked off by Kentucky, 83-79.

West Virginia, on the other hand, lost to Davidson in the Southern Conference championship game and finished the season 19-9.

Even as West Virginia celebrated its great win over Duke that Monday night in February, there were whispers that Waters would leave Morgantown if the Duke job ever came open.

Three years later that became a reality.

West Virginia 94, Duke 90

Duke (15-2)
Marin 7-11 0-0 14, Riedy 1-2 0-0 2, Lewis 11-15 3-4 25, Vacendak 5-15 8-13 18, Verga 9-18 7-7 25, Wendelin 0-1 2-2 2, Chapman 0-0 0-0 0, Kennedy 2-6 0-1 4, Kolodziej 0-1 0-0 0, Liccaro 0-0 0-0 0, Barone 0-0 0-0 0, McKaig 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-67 20-27 90.

West Virginia (15-5)
Reaser 1-2 1-1 3, Head 5-8 0-1 10, Benfield 2-3 1-2 5, Lesher 9-15 10-13 28, Williams 3-15 3-4 9, Holmes 1-1 0-1 2, Shaffer 2-9 1-2 5, Cavacini 4-7 5-6 13, Ryczaj 7-11 5-7 19, Totals 34-71 26-37 94.

Halftime-Duke 45, West Virginia 42. Fouled out- Marin, Lewis, Verga, Shaffer. Rebounds-Duke 47 (Marin 6, Riedy 4, Lewis 18, Vacendak 5, Verga 5, Wendelin 1, Chapman 1, Kennedy 6, Team 1); West Virginia 40 (Reaser 1, Head 3, Benfield 8, Lesher 10, Williams 5, Holmes 1, Shaffer 4, Cavacini 3, Rycjaj 4). Assists-Duke 11 (Lewis 3, Vacendak 3, Verga 4, Kennedy 1), West Virginia 8 (Lesher 1, Williams 5, Shaffer 2). Total fouls-Duke 31, West Virginia 21. Technicals- None.

Attendance – 5,800.


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