STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) –It’s been 50 years since Mississippi State and Loyola last met on that historic day in East Lansing, Mich., for the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday, the two meet again at 7 p.m. in Chicago. This time, though, without any type of tension.
After being denied an opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament three times due to the possibility of playing against integrated teams, MSU defied a state injunction in 1963 and snuck out of town in order to play the game.
Loyola won the highly-anticipated contest 61-51 at Jenison Fieldhouse en route to winning the national championship, but more importantly the brave decision by MSU officials opened the door for racial reconciliation.
It’s a story Bulldogs coach Rick Ray wants to make sure his current players understand and the role that game 50 years ago means today.
Recently, the NCAA named the game one of the Top 35 defining moments in the history of college athletics.
“It’s just a unique experience to go through this, and I want to make sure we use it as a learning experience,” Ray said. “Coming to Mississippi State I didn’t know about the ‘Game of Change.’ What we’ve been trying to do is educate our guys on the historical nature of the game.”
Ray, whose team is 3-5 following its 53-42 win against Texas-San Antonio on Dec.4, has shown his team a documentary of the game, as well as have players from the game talk about their experiences.
“At the time, we didn’t realize history was being made,” said Doug Hutton, who had 10 points in that game. “We just wanted to play basketball. Now, looking back, it’s such a great honor to be a part of history.”
Hutton, along with several of his teammates from 50 years ago, will be in attendance Saturday both watching the game and reflecting about the first encounter between the two programs.
“It will be special,” he said. “It means a lot to us.”
This year’s Ramblers team is 6-3 following 73-61 setback to No. 19 Michigan State last week. At home, they’ve won 19 of their last 21 non-conference affairs, including six straight.
Loyola, which is 12-15 against SEC foes, is led by 6-foot-8 forward Ben Averkamp’s 17.4 points and 6.8 boards. Against the Spartans, he totaled 26 points.
Mississippi State enters the contest led in scoring by sophomore forward Roquez Johnson at 13.3 points. Also in double-digits is freshman guard Fred Thomas at 11.1.
The game will be shown live on ESPN3 and tape delayed at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
After Saturday, MSU is off until Dec. 22 when it plays Central Arkansas in Jackson, Miss. The next game at Humphrey Coliseum is set for Dec. 30 against Alabama A&M.