Columbia all-time moment No. 3: Columbia clinches 1968 NCAA Tourney berth

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because the Dave Newmark did Willis Reed in NYC before Willis Reed did Willis Reed in NYC.

The best season in Columbia basketball history was in jeopardy. Despite a 16-game win streak and a dominating stretch in Ivy play, the Lions had to face a Princeton Tigers team which just defeated them by 11 points. The winner would be the Ivy representative in the 23-team NCAA Tournament, the loser would be unlikely to make the NIT. For a Columbia team sitting at 20-4, anything less than a title would have been an extraordinary disappointment, even to be taken down by a Princeton squad who was 20-5 and started the preseason ranked No. 8 in the nation.

Going into the contest, it appeared to be a tossup. While the game was held at St. Johns’ Alumni Hall as a neutral site, there were many more Columbia supporters in attendance. What complicated matters for the Lions was playing their second game against Princeton in four days, and possibly being without star center Dave Newmark, who had missed the previous two Ivy weekends with a severely sprained ankle. To the surprise of many, Newmark started the game and perhaps provided a Willis Reed-esque boost to the Lions two years before a hobbled Reed inspired the Knicks to an NBA Finals win with a surprise start. Newmark won the opening tip, scored a layup on the Lions’ first possession, and finished with eight points. While Newmark’s start was the story of the game at first, it would soon become the Jim McMillian show.

McMillian dominated the Tigers on both ends of the floor. On offense, his 37 points on just 22 shots led all scorers, picking up Newmark who fell into early foul trouble. On defense, he shut down Princeton’s John Hummer, who had dominated the Lions three days prior, holding him to 10 points on 13 shots. McMillian had a balanced effort, scoring 19 in the first half, pacing the Lions to an eight-point edge at the break. His 18 in the second half put the Tigers away for good. McMillian also threw in 10 rebounds, and his scoring effort passed Chet Forte for the Lions’ record for most points scored in a regular season.

Heyward Dotson scored 19 and Roger Walaszek scored 20, and along with McMillian, they were the only three Lions to reach double-digit points. Many of those points came from the charity stripe, where Columbia made 28 of 35 for the game as a result of Princeton resorting to fouling early on in the second half. Columbia scored 92 points against Princeton’s vaunted defense en route to an 18-point shellacking of the Tigers. The second half had the feel more of a coronation than the drama packed game many fans were expecting. Carried by four future NBA draft picks, the Lions were on their way to the NCAA Tournament, and the greatest season in school history would continue for at least one more game.

No video of the game exists but the last ten minutes of the game can be heard here. Enjoy.

(Thanks to the Columbia Spectator Archive.)

4 thoughts on “Columbia all-time moment No. 3: Columbia clinches 1968 NCAA Tourney berth”

  1. Painful memory for me. I attended the game and recall an overpowering sense of frustration to see a great season reach a premature and most unsatisfying conclusion. The better team clearly won, however, earning a place in history as one of the best Ivy teams of all time. The Tigers boasted two future NBA draftees of their own, including the Rookie of the Year (Geoff Petrie). Carril spent much of the second half carping at Referee Steve Honzo, one of the best in the business.

    • “Honzo one of the best in the business.” Are you kidding!?! Steve Honzo was one of the worst – always out of position, guessing most calls he made. A true “homer” for Princeton. It takes a true Tiger supporter to make such a comment. Honzo actually rode the Princeton bus to New Haven to ref one of our home games against Princeton. True story. We lost by 15 -18 points, no surprise.


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