Melee Mars Win
By John Antonik
January 12, 2001
MORGANTOWN, W.VA. (Feb. 14, 1970) -- Before Ali-Frazier there was Smith versus Young. Smith being Syracuse center Bill Smith and Young being Southern Conference referee Herb Young.
Amazingly, the Syracuse center took a swing at the official after being whistled for his fifth personal foul with 1:01 remaining in West Virginia's 94-84 victory over the Orangemen on Feb. 14, 1970 in the old field house. Smith's action ignited a near riot on the 42-year-old court, causing police, University security and team personnel to break up a free-for-all that lasted almost a full minute.
When order was restored, the game was called upon mutual agreement by both teams, and Syracuse Coach Roy Danforth issued an apology to both West Virginia Athletic Director Red Brown and Coach Sonny Moran.
It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise fast-paced and exciting college basketball game.
Syracuse, under its second-year coach, were undergoing growing pains following the departure of Fred Lewis, whose 1966 team with guards Dave Bing and Jim Boeheim led the Orange to a 22-6 record and an NCAA East Region second round loss to Duke.
By 1970, Danforth, an astute and gifted young coach who neatly parted his hair on both sides, had started his rebuilding process behind a talented group of young players led by Smith, forward Bob McDaniel, guard Tom Green and a sophomore guard named Greg Kohls.
Kohls ranked among the nation's scoring leaders in 1972 on the way to All-America honors. He was recently named to the Syracuse All-Century Team.
Those four players would lead Syracuse to a 19-7 record in 1971, and provide the foundation for Danforth's NCAA Final Four team of 1975 led by All-Americans Jim Lee and Rudy Hackett.
Following the '75 campaign, Danforth left Syracuse for Tulane and the Syracuse basketball job fell into the capable hands of assistant coach Jim Boeheim.
In '69, however, Syracuse was an erratic and immature team. After a 101-80 home victory over Connecticut boosted their overall record to 10-7, the Orange, known as "Roy's Runts Plus One" (the one being Smith), made a southern road swing to Pitt on Friday, Feb. 13, before playing the Mountaineers the following night.
Syracuse lost to the Panthers, 127-108 in an exciting, up-and-down game at Fitzgerald Field House.
West Virginia assistant coach Gary McPherson, now the school's senior director for athletic development, recalled scouting the game.
"Syracuse had some pretty good players," McPherson remembered. "Smith went on to play a couple of years in the NBA and McDaniel was a fine forward."
However, McPherson had witnessed an act of poor sportsmanship by one of the Syracuse players following the loss. While leaving the court, one of the Orangemen had picked up a cup of water and doused some fans sitting courtside.
"I told Sonny we might have a problem," McPherson prophetically recalled.
Garland E. "Sonny" Moran had taken over the West Virginia basketball program prior to the '69-70 season. He came to Morgantown as Raymond "Bucky" Waters' top assistant in 1966, and assumed the head coaching duties when Waters replaced Vic Bubas at Duke.
Waters left Moran with a solid backcourt led by senior Bob Hummell and sophomore Wil Robinson.
The blond-haired Hummell, known as "Hummer" by his teammates and friends, was a native of Moundsville, W.Va. The 6-1 guard was the team's top scorer as a junior in 1969, and proved a nice compliment to the school's budding star Wil Robinson.
Robinson hailed from nearby Uniontown, Pa., and soon became a favorite of WVU fans and teammates. His easy-going demeanor and small-town gullibility made him a logical target for good-natured ribbing.
One popular Robinson fable concerned a car-ride to the downtown campus with the school's late president, Dr. James Harlow. The story probably contains as much fiction as it does fact.
As the story goes, Harlow stopped his vehicle alongside Towers and offered a ride to WVU's prized athletic commodity. The president enjoyed picking up student hitchhikers from time-to-time to keep his hands on the pulse of the campus.
"Young man, are you a student here?" Harlow asked Robinson.
"No sir, I'm a basketball player," was Robinson's reply. As the automobile approached the Mountain Lair, Robinson finally recognized his well-known driver.
"Are you a teacher at WVU?" queried Robinson.
"No, I'm President Harlow," he answered.
Wil averaged a team-best 20 points per game as a sophomore in 1970, and two years later became the school's last basketball All-American in 1972. Robinson could pull up on a dime and shoot it from anywhere on the court. Six-five Larry Woods was a fine senior forward on that 1970 team, and paired with 6-5 junior Dick Symons. The center was 7-0 Mike Heitz of Garrett, Ind.
The Mountaineers played a brutal schedule in '69-70 after leaving the Southern Conference on the urging of football Coach Jim Carlen.
After opening the season at nationally ranked Kentucky, Moran's Mountaineers also met St. John's, Notre Dame, New Mexico, Maryland, Florida, Ohio State, Davidson and Duke leading up to the Syracuse game.
West Virginia owned eight wins and 12 losses at that point and finished the season with an 11-15 record.
"Our recruiting didn't quite measure up to the schedule we were playing," admitted Hummell.
Despite being travel-weary, Syracuse was prepared to give West Virginia another stern test. Senior Ernie Austin was the Orange's top scorer entering the game with a 20.4 points per game average, while Smith and McDaniel were averaging better than 18 points per contest.
Six-eleven Smith blended remarkable agility with a smooth shooting touch. He scored a school-record 47 points against Lafayette as a senior in 1971, and averaged 22.7 points per game during his senior season. He also pulled down 903 rebounds in 70 career games, including 23 against West Virginia at Manley Field House in 1971.
The center played two NBA seasons with the Portland Trailblazers from 1972-73.
However, Smith also often reacted negatively when other teams tried to rough him up.
"Bill was our go-to guy and teams tried to frustrate him with rough play," guard Tom Green, now the head coach at Farleigh Dickinson, recalled.
"Bill had a bit of a temper," former Syracuse SID Larry Kimball added.
McDaniel, meanwhile, was an efficient-shooting, 6-7 forward who donned a white headband. He hailed from Plainfield, N.J.
"That was the first time we had ever seen players wearing bandanas," McPherson remembered. "It was right around the time of the Vietnam War."
The Syracuse lineup was rounded out by 6-2 senior guard John Suder and 6-4 senior forward Gerry McFadden.
Syracuse jumped out to an early lead in the game, but accurate shooting by Hummell and Robinson quickly turned a WVU deficit into an eight-point lead midway through the first half. Syracuse answered with a string of eight-straight points to tie the game at 43, but backup forward Bob Lowe's only goal of the game gave West Virginia a 45-43 lead at halftime.
"It was a highly competitive game with a lot of pushing and shoving," said Green.
West Virginia took control in the second half after Syracuse cut the deficit to three at 83-80 with 3:08 left. The Mountaineers built a 10-point margin as a result of Syracuse's ineffective full-court press. With the Mountaineers leading 90-82, Robinson charged into an Orange player under the basket after passing the ball to Woods, who converted the layup.
One official signaled a goal for West Virginia while another whistled an offensive foul. Confusion grew as both teams huddled around center court in an effort to determine the correct ruling. After an argument, the referees finally overruled the goal when they realized that Woods, not Robinson, had made the basket.
"Until then, I didn't think the officiating was out of order," Danforth said following the game.
"I guess you could say the calls didn't go our way that night," Green laughed.
Tempers soon got out of control. McDaniel was slapped with a technical foul and was ejected from the game after delivering a flagrant foul.
Just seconds later, Smith lost his cool and swung at Young after he was whistled for his fifth personal foul.
"It was unbelievable," said McPherson.
When two members of the Morgantown Police Department rushed onto the floor to prevent further problems, the Syracuse center swung at Patrolman William Smith. He struck the officer twice before being tackled by a spectator, who was later banned from WVU athletic events "for life" by Brown.
In the meantime, McDaniel joined in and swatted Young across the back with his warmup jacket. A series of scuffles sprung up before order was restored nearly a minute later.
Green was a part of the melee, too. A West Virginia football player attempted to take the Syracuse guard from behind, but Green maneuvered around and caught the player flush on the jaw with a right hook.
McPherson witnessed Green's self defense with amazement.
"I saw that later on the game film and I'm telling you, the player got up, shook his head and walked right back into the stands," McPherson noted.
"My hand is still sore," laughed Green.
"People began pouring onto the floor," added Dominion Post photographer Ron Rittenhouse, who was positioned at center court. "I had only covered a few games before that one and I didn't know they did this. I took a few photos and got out of there."
"When you've got 6-11 guys running around throwing punches it can get pretty dangerous," said Hummell, who scored a game-high 32 points. "I got a tooth pulled when I was small and I didn't want to go back to the dentist, so I got the Hell out of there. You see confrontations today, but I think that was one of the worst I'd ever seen."
"When the fans came out of the stands it was a little bit hairy," remembered Dick Polen, then an assistant SID for West Virginia. "There was just a big, huge flurry and then everybody came to their senses."
"I thought the officials and coaches reacted quickly," Kimball added.
The two teams were rushed from the floor and the game was called with the Mountaineers leading by 10, 94-84. There were no further incidents on the court. Gentlemanly Athletic Director Brown declared the matter a finished deal.
"It's a closed matter as far as we're concerned," Brown said after the game.
The athletic director noted that the referees expressed the opinion that they had the incident under control until the spectator rushed the Syracuse player. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt.
Syracuse, which received a police escort from the field house, was supposed to spend the night at the Holiday Inn in Star City, but instead left for a hotel in Pittsburgh after fans discovered their location.
The fracas didn't damage the longstanding series and the two teams have played incident-free since.
However, for the 6,000 that packed the old field house that cold February evening, it's one basketball game they will never forget.