We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We’re starting with Princeton because Bill Bradley would have made an excellent 43rd President of the United States.
By 1965, Butch van Breda Kolff and his All-American, Bill Bradley, had captured the hearts of college fans beyond the Ivy League. Winners of two straight Ivy titles, the Tigers entered the campaign as the clear favorite to claim a third. The national experts did not, however, believe the Tigers deserved any consideration for national ranking. The Ivy League was, after all, still the Ivy League.
Bradley was one of five seniors who had been through many battles together. They were joined by juniors Don Rodenbach and Robert Haarlow, as well as a talented sophomore class who would themselves notch an Ivy crown in their careers. The sophomores included Gary Walters, a product of Reading High School where he was coached by Pete Carril, and Ed Hummer, the father of Ian Hummer, who would graduate in 2013 as the second-leading scorer in Tiger history.
As expected, the Tigers breezed through the Ivy League, cruising to a 13-1 record, marred only by a two- point loss to Cornell in Ithaca on a Saturday night. (The back-to-backs were killers 50 years ago, too.) Given a second chance against the Big Red at home in late February, the Tigers set a team scoring record in the 107-84 revenge match. The record lasted two weeks.
The regular season highlight came in what is known as the Game of the Year for the 1964-65 season of college basketball. The Tigers were invited to the ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden where they would face off against the Michigan Wolverines and their great star, Cazzie Russell. In one of his greatest performances on a national stage Bradley scored 41 points, propelling the Tigers to a 12- point lead when he fouled out. He left the court to an ovation that blew the roof off the Garden and halted play for nearly five minutes. Alas, the Tigers without their leader were unable to hold off the Big Ten champions, who escaped with a two-point win and the Holiday Festival crown.
Princeton’s opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was Penn State, in a game contested, fittingly, at the Palestra. The 60-58 win sent the Tigers to College Park, Md., for the East Regional at Cole Field House.
The semifinal matchup pitted Princeton against the Wolfpack of NC State. The Tigers put on a clinic, 66-48, in an attention-getting demolition. Apparently, the win did not get the attention of the Providence Friars, who defeated St. Joe’s in the other semifinal. The Friars audaciously cut down the nets after their semifinal win, an act the Tiger onlookers viewed as disrespectful, at best. It stuck in Bradley’s craw 50 years later.
The Tigers found the new nets very much to their liking the next night, torching them for a 68 percent field goal rate for the game. Bradley made 14 of 20 from the field and all 13 of his free throws. His 41 total points just about made up the Tigers’ victory margin in the 109-69 blowout. A request for the nets from the semifinal game went unanswered.
The East champions headed to Portland where a national semifinal contest against the nation’s No. 1 team, and tournament favorite, Michigan awaited. For the Tigers, the dream matchup was a fizzle, as the Wolverines easily advanced to the final, 93-76. The Tigers title dream was over, but the rules at the time gave them another game. The championship game was preceded by the consolation final for third place, pitting the Tigers against Wichita State.
Princeton set its third scoring record in three weeks against the Shockers, racing to a 118-82 victory. Bradley, in his final college game, exploded for 58 points, still the most in a Final Four game. His 177 points in the tournament stood as the record for the next 24 years. He was named the Tournament MVP, a fitting tribute to the greatest player in the history of the Ivy League.
Bradley graduated and van Breda Kolff left Princeton to coach the Los Angeles Lakers two years later, opening the door for the spiritual godfather of Tiger basketball, Pete Carril, whose own career would end in a blaze of NCAA glory in 1996.