Forty years later they are still the team that most excited me as a fan and their near miss at winning it all is still probably my greatest sports disappointment.
Providence was led by three future NBA players who played fast break Showtime basketball years before the Lakers did:
- guard Ernie Diegregorio
- center s Marvin Barnes
- guard Kevin Stacom
- Record 21-6
3-0 Regular Season Against Ranked Opponents
- Beat #7 USC and #17 Jacksonville on the road
- Ranked as high as 14th
- Lost to Penn in first round of NCAA
THE ROAD TO WESTWOOD
For Providence their early schedule had one big road bump – a January 20th date with #1 UCLA at Pauley Pavillion. Providence came into the game 10-1 , that included a 15 point win over ranked South Carolina at the Utah Classic.
Despite their two star players being hobbled with the flu, Marvin Barnes held Walton without a point in the first 12 minutes and the Friars were within 8 at halftime. Walton would rally to score 18 point, as UCLA pulled away by 24 in the second half for their 59th consecutive win – 1 shy of the record.
RETURN TO THE DUNK
Providence returned to their new home court, a new 12,000 seat arena that is now known as the Dunk. Providence would win their last 14 games, including an impressive victory over Jacksonville that was my first basketball game. They ended the regular season ranked 9th in the nation.
St Joseph’s 76
- Ernie D had 31 points, 27 in the second half and Marvin had 21 points and 17 boards, as the Friars cruised past the Mike Bantom led St Joseph Hawks.
Eastern Regional Semifinal
- Providence avenges its 1972 first round loss with a blow out led by Marvin Barnes 10-10 shooting – an NCAA record that held until Kentucky’s Kenny Walker went 11-for-11 in 1986.
Eastern Regional Final
Coach Gavitt was up against Maryland’s Lefty Driesell whose Terps also featured three future NBA-ers in big men Tom McMillan and Len Elmore (still the ACC’s all-time leading rebounder) and guard John Lucas – the latter two are part of the all-time Maryland starting five. Lefty showed little respect for Providence, repeatedly referring to “Ernie What’s his name” — although keep in mind that Lefty is famous for saying “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid” It seemed he and much of the basketball world were looking forward to a matchup of the pre-season #1 and #2 teams in UCLA and Maryland in the finals. That would have to wait until December 1973 as Ernie D had other plans.
- Curt Gowdy butchering Ernie’s last name like Frankie Valli trying to sing country;
- Ernie getting cosmic revenge of some sorts by faking out the NBC camera crew with his passing wizardry;
- The growing sense of dred with each foul Ernie picked up until he fouled out with twelve minutes to go with the Friars up by 12; and
- My amazement as the rest of the team – Barnes, Stacom, Fran Costello – played their best twelve minutes of the year and Providence literally ran away with the game.
ST LOUIS – THE FINAL FOUR
Memphis St 98
In the semi-final game against Memphis State, Providence’s fast break offense sprinted to a double digit lead in what was beginning to look like a potential blow out when disaster struck. Providence’s star center Marvin Barnes, who averaged 18.3 points and 19 rebounds (compared to 20.4 points and 16.9 rebounds for Bill Walton) and who scored 12 points in the first 11 minutes of the game, injured his knee and would not be able to play the rest of the tournament.
Gavitt faced a tough choice. He could have switched to a four-corners style offense to hold on and stagger their way into the title game with UCLA, but he was too classy for that and ultimately Memphis was exploit Barnes injury and win 98-85. NBC Announcer Curt Gowdy later told Gavitt it was the “best half of basketball he had ever seen.” Two days later Bill Walton dominated Memphis en route to the championship (just as Barnes had dominated Memphis in the first half) and Gavitt and Providence fans were left to wonder “what if?”