(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in South Carolina Athletics’ countdown. Starting Tuesday April 14, we will be revealing portions of the list nightly on 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Gamecocks history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk Radio Network.
#6: 1971 ACC Men’s Basketball Title
In a time when there was much going on behind the scenes of South Carolina athletics-with the program looking to soon exit the Atlantic Coast Conference, men’s basketball became the talk of the state. As the team prepared to leave the ACC, the ‘71 Gamecocks secured the program’s first and, to this day, only men’s basketball conference championship. And, thus, they earned South Carolina’s first NCAA Tournament bid.
Frank McGuire was entering his seventh season as head coach of the Gamecocks in the fall of 1970. After a successful career St. Johns and then North Carolina, McGuire was hired in 1964.
His vision came to fruition in the late ‘60’s.
“He started to bring in the best talent from New York City to South Carolina,” said Phil Kornblut of Sports Talk Radio Network.
And in ‘69-’70, South Carolina was the regular season champion winning 25 games. They were the top-ranked team in the country for most of the season, considered to be a favorite to win the national title. With a team led by John Roche, Tom Owens, and Tom Riker, the Gamecocks made it to the ACC Championship game but lost to N.C. State, 42-39, in double overtime. It was a bitter ending to a promising campaign.
“I compared it to this year’s women’s team that couldn’t go to the NCAA tournament, because there wasn’t one and couldn’t win a national championship,” said Kornblut. “That 1970’s team was the best team in the country, but couldn’t go to the tournament and stayed home.”
The following year they returned their key players, and were ranked second in the nation in the preseason polling. Another year of high expectations was met with a determination for revenge in the conference tournament. It was announced prior to the campaign that South Carolina was leaving the ACC after the season. This was their last chance to claim an ACC title.
The Gamecocks started strong winning each of their first nine games, including two wins over top-five ranked opponents. But they hit a bump in the road midway through the season by losing four of their next six games. The losses dropped their ranking from second to 10th.
The regular season ended the same way it began. South Carolina went on a nine-game winning streak to close it out. They were heading back to the ACC Tournament as the top-seed. And the passion displayed in Greensboro, NC for the tournament was evident.
“ACC basketball back then was pure war,” said Kornblut. “The rivalries were incredibly intense.”
South Carolina faced off against Maryland in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, defeating the Terrapins, 71-63. Next up was a rematch of the 1970 ACC Championship against
N.C. State. This time the Gamecocks enacted revenge, winning convincingly, 69-56, setting up a battle with bitter rival North Carolina in the championship game.
“You get to the ACC Tournament and you get to the championship game against North Carolina, the ultimate showdown,” said Kornblut. “[It’s] something that every sports fan in the state of South Carolina can only dream about whether you’re a Clemson fan or a South Carolina fan.”
An intense, low-scoring game was on display at the Greensboro Coliseum for the title match.
“The game came down to the last seconds and there was a scramble for a loose ball under the South Carolina basket,” said Kornblut. “It ended up being a jump ball between South Carolina guard Kevin Joyce at 6 ‘4” and North Carolina center Lee Dedmon at 7’ 0″. “
It wasn’t exactly an even matchup. McGuire called a timeout and gave Joyce some words of wisdom ahead of the tip.
“You can hear the tape of McGuire talking to Kevin Joyce saying ‘Kevin, jump to the moon. Jump to the moon,’” said Kornblut.
Joyce beat Dedmon on the tip and the ball went to Tom Owens who took it himself all the way to the rim laying it in at the buzzer. South Carolina had defeated North Carolina, 52-51, claiming the 1971 ACC title.
“The whole state went wild,” said Kornblut.
The team had become royalty in the Palmetto State as they grabbed the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid.
“They had become kind of like the Beatles in the state of South Carolina. They were rock stars,” said Kornblut.
The Gamecocks lost to number three Penn in the opening round of the tournament, but Kornblut says the height of their accomplishments that season can’t be overstated.
“I still think that is, maybe, the greatest moment in South Carolina athletic history,” said Kornblut. “It was more than just winning a basketball game. There was so much behind the scenes going on in South Carolina Athletics at the time.”
South Carolina Top Ten List: