Monday was the 35th anniversary of St. Joseph’s shocking upset of top-ranked DePaul in the NCAA Tournament. Blue Demons fans of that era will remember that day the way they might remember surgery without anesthesia.
DePaul was at the height of its hoops popularity. Mark Aguirre was the national player of the year, and the Blue Demons’ stacked roster included Clyde Bradshaw, Skip Dillard, Teddy Grubbs and Terry Cummings. St. Joe’s stood in the way of DePaul’s crusade to make amends for losing to UCLA in the second round the previous season. The Blue Demons were a top seed that year as well.
Thirty-five years ago in Dayton, Ohio, the sky and Ray Meyer’s team fell again. The 49-48 loss to St. Joe’s in the second round is still one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. DePaul had a seven-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game, but the Hawks wouldn’t go away. Still, the Blue Demons had Dillard, an 85 percent free-throw shooter, on the line with 13 seconds left. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, and St. Joe’s sped down the court. The day before, the Hawks had practiced a fast break off a missed free throw. Good move. They won on a layup by a player with the pedestrian name of John Smith.
Of the low score, Aguirre would later say, “All I thought about after the game was, ‘I wish there was a 30-second clock.’ ’’
After it was over, he walked out of the arena with the game ball, threw it as far as he could and stuffed his jersey inside a Dumpster. He put on a sweat suit and walked the two miles-plus back to the team’s hotel. That’s the way Chicago felt too.
DePaul had company in its misery. That same day, another No. 1 seed, Oregon State, lost to Kansas State, and defending champion Louisville lost to Arkansas. Madness, indeed.
“Not the kind of history I’m happy to be a part of,” Meyer said that day.