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Men’s Basketball: ’72 Cajun squad set standard for today

Men’s Basketball: ’72 Cajun squad set standard for today

Men’s Basketball: ’72 Cajun squad set standard for today

Bruce Brown

It’s not easy for so-called mid-major programs to get into the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

For most of them, their only avenue is to win a conference championship with an automatic bid attached. Otherwise, the spot will go to a big-game school from a big conference.

Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns are in that boat this year, earning a second straight trip to the Big Dance by virtue of a repeat title in the Sun Belt Conference.

But if fans think that’s tough, think of a tournament with just 32 teams instead of today’s list of 65.

That was the situation in 1972 when then-USL was in its first year of competition in what was called the University Division after competing in the College Division tournament the year before.

The Cajuns were Southland Conference champions at the time, but that certainly didn’t get them in. Their 23-3 regular-season record and fearless, up-tempo style of play was more likely the key.

They had Dwight "Bo" Lamar, who was on his way to being UL’s all-time scoring leader with 3,493 points.

They had Roy Ebron, who averaged 19.4 points and 12.2 rebounds per game in his career.

They had rebounders like Payton Townsend, Fred Saunders and Wilbert "Tree" Loftin.

They had gritty role players like Jerry Bisbano, Steve Greene and Mike Haney.

They had style.

They also had a second-round matchup with Louisville, the same school the Cajuns find themselves facing this Friday in NCAA Regional play in Nashville.

"Several good teams didn’t get to play in those days," said local insurance agent Tom Cox, an assistant coach on that Cajun team of the 1970’s. "The NIT was bigger then, and they had good teams in their tournament.

"Despite our record, there was some question in our minds whether we could get in. We had played several good teams on the road, but they were only looking at 32 people."

The 1972 Cajuns outscored Marshall 112-101 in the first round in Las Cruces, N.M. behind 35 points from Lamar and a monster 33-point, 20-rebound night from Ebron.

Against Louisville in Ames, Iowa, Lamar hit 14-of-42 shots and had 29 points. The Cajuns launched 94 shots and out-rebounded Louisville 52-39. There were 24 fouls by the Cajuns, 15 by the Cardinals, and Louisville won, 88-84.

"Their biggest guard was 6-foot-3 and about 220, and I remember he roughed Bo up pretty good throughout the game," Cox said. "I also remember a couple of calls late in the game.

"At one point, we got a rebound and an outlet pass and missed the basket. Bisbano had been tied up with their big guy and didn’t get too far back up the court.

"When Louisville got the rebound, the guy threw a lob to their big guy at midcourt. Jerry set up at the free throw line. The guy was looking back when he caught the ball, and he hit Jerry and knocked him to the baseline. The collision knocked the ball loose, and their guy picked it up and scored.

"There was no (charging) call on the play.

"Then, it was a two-point game late and we were in a fullcourt press and had their guard trapped. He started crossing the court and dribbled in the backcourt, and there was no call."

Those two scenarios obviously didn’t sit well with the Cajuns, and fiery head coach Beryl Shipley made his feelings known.

"There was an NCAA official who sat behind our bench during the game," Cox said, "and he confronted Shipley in the hotel afterwards and complained about his court demeanor. I got between them and told the guy if he had anything to say to Beryl he’d better wait a day or two."

The Cajuns recovered to hammer Texas 100-70 in a consolation game two nights later, a contest since discontinued, as Lamar torched the Longhorns for 36.

But they left thinking what might have been.

Originally published March 17, 2005