When a person thinks of Syracuse versus Penn State, the mind automatically pictures the schools’ football rivalry, not basketball.
But on Jan. 10, 1979 the schools played a wild game at Manley Field House, a game in which many ways, was a preview to the rough and tumble days of the Big East Conference which got started later that year.
When it was over, all an exasperated Jim Boeheim could say was, “That was not basketball.”
Syracuse entered the game on a roll. The Orange were 11-2 and on a four-game winning streak. Their winning streak stood at home stood at 37, the best in the country. The Nittany Lions were going in the opposite direction, losing nine of their previous 15 games.
The game finished in a resounding 85-70 Syracuse victory, but the result was not what people were talking about the next day.
“It was impossible for the conscious mind to screen out the persistent madness” of the game the Post-Standard’s Mike Smith wrote in the next day’s newspaper.
Smith wrote that the crowd of 8,182 fans were treated to a game that mixed “brutality” with “exquisitely bungled offensive maneuvers” which he said, “created a delightfully comic rendition of the game.”
Those who made it to the end were “reduced to a stupor somewhere between exhaustion and deep slumber” as 56 fouls were called, three Penn State players fouled out and Syracuse making 33 out of 39 free throws.
The game also featured Penn State coach Dick Harter throwing his scorecard into the Syracuse student section and the fans raining down ice and pennies onto Penn State’s Jim Solic for a very hard football-like tackle of Syracuse’s Mark Cubit late in the game.
The main culprit for the game’s brutal play was Harter, who, knowing that his team had little chance against a talented Syracuse featuring Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, Dale Shackleford, Marty Headd, Danny Schayes and Eddie Moss, decided to employ his “oft-maligned Kamikaze Defense.”
He admitted as much after the game, shortly after challenging SU fans who taunted him as he walked down the aisle:
“What kind of a chance are we going to have against Syracuse if we go soft and play a zone? We were mismatched at so many positions we had to play a tough defensive game to stay with them.”
“We had to play it this way to stay with Syracuse,” he explained. “And if we get a break in the officiating, we’ve got a chance.”
Syracuse was in the bonus with twelve minutes remaining in the first half and even earlier in the second, after Penn State committed seven fouls in the first three minutes.
An early second half 13-0 run by Syracuse, ignited by an Eddie Moss steal and pass to Louis Orr for a resounding dunk, put the game out of reach. Syracuse was led in scoring by Roosevelt Bouie, who scored 20 points and made 12 of his 14 foul shots.
Syracuse players did not like the style of the game but were happy that they were able to win the game.
Louis Orr said the game was not “his style” but he thought he showed that he could “hold his own.”
Guard Eddie Moss had the quote of the night:
“I’m not a muscle player, but I also don’t have to get physical to handle a game like that. You see, they have to catch me first before I have to get physical. I’ll be gone before they can get to me.”
Boeheim was described as “miffed” after the game but later said the game was a “good workout.”
Syracuse finished the 1979 season 26-4 and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
‘They wanted to hurt us’: Penn State ends rivalry with Syracuse in 1988
This feature is a part of CNY Nostalgia, a section on syracuse.com.
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