MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – To today, Jay Jacobs is satisfied that if Don Vincent hadn’t damaged his left leg within the 1958 Southern Convention Event semifinals, West Virginia College would have received a nationwide championship.
Vincent’s left fibula, Main Harris’ proper shoulder, Pat White’s proper thumb and Da’Sean Butler’s left knee make up the 4 greatest What Ifs? in Mountaineer sports activities historical past.
Crew chemistry (like fibulas) will be such a fragile factor, and regardless of having the nice Jerry West, the lack of Vincent, the group’s calmest and most mature participant, was too nice for the Mountaineers to beat once they confronted underdog Manhattan within the NCAA Event East Regional in Madison Sq. Backyard in New York Metropolis.
Vincent, who handed away earlier this week at age 86, was as soon as described by his coach Fred Schaus as a “ball participant’s ball participant” as a result of he was so unflappable on the courtroom.
“He by no means introduced you to your ft with a spectacular play; all he did was make each play on each ends of the ground,” WVU teammate and MSN basketball radio analyst Jay Jacobs recalled earlier at this time. “He was a terrific participant.”
Vincent starred at Shinnston Excessive within the early Fifties throughout a time when West Virginia highschool basketball reigned supreme. WVU benefited significantly from this magnificent run of in-state expertise that was a byproduct of thriving mining and chemical industries within the Mountain State following the conclusion of World Battle II.
Schaus may get in his ’57 Chevrolet and drive the state searching for its greatest basketball gamers, hitting such out-of-the-way locations as Grafton, Fairview, Grant City, Flemington, Shinnston, Hedgesville, Chattaroy, Gassaway, Mullens, Aurora, Shady Spring, Logan, Pineville, Princeton, and, after all, Cabin Creek.
The remoteness of those small cities did not deter faculty coaches from attempting to steal West Virginia’s high expertise, both. The state’s greatest poacher was Chuck Noe, who had seven West Virginians on his Virginia Tech roster in 1958, together with 4 gamers from Charleston Excessive simply to verify middle Chris Smith felt at residence in Blacksburg.
In actual fact, there have been so many good gamers within the state at the moment that the spillover helped Marshall with Huntington merchandise Hal Greer and Leo Byrd, and even among the West Virginia Convention faculties that managed to qualify for the NAIA event in Kansas Metropolis.
Charlie Huggins, the late father of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, as soon as helped Alderson-Broaddus to the NAIA nationwide event after he left WVU.
The Raleigh County Armory and the unique Charleston Civic Middle had been constructed within the early Nineteen Sixties, partly in response to the highschool basketball frenzy the state had skilled within the Fifties. Previous to that, there wasn’t a health club in Charleston large enough to accommodate all the individuals who wished to see Charleston Excessive play.
“We performed the Kentucky all-star group they usually had been imagined to have the perfect gamers in America,” West as soon as recalled, “and because it turned out, we had the higher gamers. We performed them twice and beat them twice. It was a really excessive caliber group of fellows that we had in West Virginia at the moment.”
Rod Thorn, who returned to campus in 2020 to have his West Virginia uniform quantity 44 retired, agrees with West.
“Basketball has been large in West Virginia for a lot of, a few years and positively led by West, there was some actually good gamers at the moment,” he stated.
That was the overall state of West Virginia basketball when Vincent broke his leg with lower than 5 minutes remaining and the Mountaineers comfortably forward of Richmond within the Southern Convention Event semifinals.
The man chargeable for injuring Vincent, ahead Carl Slone, occurred to be from Williamson … West Virginia! Schaus had despatched Pineville’s Butch Goode to the scorer’s desk to exchange Vincent when Slone tried to dam Vincent’s driving layup and despatched him crashing to the bottom along with his left foot twisted beneath him.
Earlier that season, the Mountaineers had knocked off fifth-ranked Kentucky and No. 1 North Carolina on consecutive days within the Kentucky Invitational earlier than Christmas and spent the complete month of January and portion of February at No. 1 in each polls.
In a supporting function to West, Vincent tallied 29 factors within the victories over Kentucky and North Carolina, and he additionally performed properly in a few massive wins over Pitt and its excellent duo of Don Hennon and Julius Pegues. Joedy Gardner had hassle containing Hennon, however Vincent caught to Pegues like glue, holding him to simply 9 factors in a 71-64 triumph at Fitzgerald Area Home.
In Morgantown, it was Vincent’s massive three-point play that ended Pitt’s late rally and lifted the Mountaineers to a 99-86 win.
“When the going will get robust, it would not appear to trouble Vince,” Schaus as soon as beamed. “It is like he has ice water in his veins. Sport in and recreation out, Vince is there once we want him most. He actually holds the ball membership collectively within the backcourt, and that is a vital level when the opposite group is providing you with hassle.
“He simply by no means misplaced his cool,” Jacobs marveled. “His demeanor on the courtroom was terrific. Don Vincent was that participant that you might all the time depend on.”
The one turbulence the group had skilled was a 72-68 setback at Duke two days after routing Furman 109-84 in Greenville, South Carolina. WVU remained No. 1 till being nudged out on Feb. 11 by Kansas State, a two-overtime winner over second-ranked Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
West Virginia returned to the highest of the polls two days after holding off William & Mary within the Southern Convention championship recreation with Ronnie Retton taking Vincent’s spot at guard.
That turned out to be the ultimate Related Press ballot of the season.
For its East Regional first-round recreation in opposition to Manhattan within the Backyard, Schaus opted to maneuver Bobby Joe Smith into the backcourt with Gardner and begin Willie Akers in Smith’s place at ahead.
It was solely the second lineup change of the season, the primary occurring three days prior within the Southern Convention title recreation.
Gardner, Akers, West and 6-foot-10 middle Lloyd Sharrar every fouled out, enabling Manhattan to drag off one of the crucial beautiful upset victories in NCAA Event historical past. It was a 1-in-10 proposition for the Jaspars beating West Virginia, and it occurred that night time.
Manhattan performed a bodily, New York model the Mountaineer guards had problem dealing with.
“Again then, taking part in within the Southern Convention, we had been pretty comfortable taking part in in comparison with the New York groups the best way the video games had been officiated up there, “Smith, who died final fall, recalled a few years in the past. “We thought we had been fouled bringing the ball up the courtroom they usually actually roughed us up. It was our fault and we should always have discovered fairly shortly and performed that sort of ball, too.”
Jacobs thought the fast turnaround from the Southern Convention Event, touring on to New York Metropolis additionally performed a job within the beautiful loss.
“The issue was in these days we did not have any time between the Southern Convention Event in Richmond and the NCAA Event in New York Metropolis,” he famous. “We went instantly from Richmond to New York Metropolis, and we simply did not make the adjustment. That group was No. 1 within the polls getting in – a fairly dadgum good group.”
It was a bitter capsule for West Virginia to swallow, significantly a few weeks later once they noticed within the newspapers that Kentucky had outlasted Seattle to win the nationwide championship.
Had Vincent not gotten harm, the Manhattan loss in Madison Sq. Backyard would not occur as a result of he would have dealt with the Jaspars’ rough-house play, and West Virginia is the group almost definitely slicing down the nets in Louisville, Kentucky – not the Kentucky Wildcats.
“The most important disappointment of my profession was ’58 as a result of we had been nationwide champions that yr, there was no query about it,” Smith recalled.
If solely Don Vincent hadn’t gotten harm! It is one among West Virginia College’s greatest What Ifs?