Duke staggered into the 1960 ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils lost five of their last seven regular-season games, losses by margins of 10, 26, 10, 19 and 25 points. The only two wins were over a truly awful Virginia team that would end its season at 6-18.
Duke was 12-10 overall, 7-7 in the ACC and to any outside observer ready to have its season end.
But Vic Bubas thought the downward spiral gave Duke a chance to start over.
“We have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” he told his team.
The ACC Tournament was held at Reynolds Coliseum, on the NC State campus, only 25 miles or so from Duke’s campus. Raleigh was hit with a seven-inch snowfall earlier that week, part of a pattern that made March of 1960 one of the coldest, snowiest Marches ever recorded on the east coast. The bad weather so compromised attendance that local station WRAL was allowed to telecast the first round of the tournament, something that had never been allowed before.
Fourth-seeded Duke opened with fifth-seeded South Carolina. The Blue Devils jumped to an early 12-point lead and were never really threatened.
The final was 82-69. Doug Kistler led Duke with 26 points, with Howard Hurt adding 21 points and Carroll Youngkin 16 rebounds. But the key was Duke’s 1-3-1 zone that held the Gamecocks to 34 percent shooting.
Duke’s 82 points was the most they had scored that season up to that point.
Top seeds North Carolina and Wake Forest cruised to easy wins over Virginia and Clemson, respectively.
But there was one mild upset, when sixth-seeded State defeated third-seeded Maryland 74-58. Although technically an upset, this shouldn’t have surprised anyone, as Reynolds was State’s home court and Case’s tournament successes were well known.
An all Big-Four semifinals.
Duke was matched against nemesis North Carolina in one of those. Bubas told his team it could afford to be “loosey-goosey,” that all of the pressure was on McGuire’s team after their three decisive wins over Duke earlier in the season.
Maybe the Tar Heels were tight. Or maybe they took Duke for granted. Or maybe Duke had just turned a corner. But there’s no question that Duke was playing that 1-3-1 at a high level. The flummoxed Tar Heels had a scoreless stretch in the first half that lasted six minutes. Duke led 35-19 before the favorites scored the final four points of the opening half.
York Larese hit three bombs early in the second half and the Tar Heels came storming back. They took a 50-49 lead with just under nine minutes left. But Duke held on. Youngkin was having the game of his life inside and Shaffer eventually fouled out, with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Hurt hit four big foul shots down the stretch and Duke escaped with a 71-69 win, the first of Bubas’ 14 wins against North Carolina. He would lose 13.
Youngkin had 30 points and 17 rebounds, hitting 12 of 19 from the field. Hurt added 17 points and nine rebounds and made nine of 11 from the foul line.
Larese led the Tar Heels with 25 points.
Again, Duke won it on defense. North Carolina shot only 38 percent from the field, while Duke shot 47 percent.
Wake Forest held off a spirited upset bid by NC State in the other semifinal, 71-66. The final seconds saw a spirited altercation between two of the ACC’s most physical players, State’s Anton Muehlbauer and Wake’s Dave Budd.
Budd was 6-6, about 210 pounds and one tough customer. It would be tempting to call him the basketball equivalent of a hockey goon except he could really play. He was second-team All-ACC in 1958 and 1960 and averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in three seasons at Wake. He then went on to play five seasons for the New York Knicks at a time when the NBA only had nine teams and roster spots were scarce.
But Budd sure was in trouble a lot. He came to national attention when he got into a scuffle with Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson in the 1958 Dixie Classic and also was at the center of scuffles against North Carolina and Maryland. ACC commissioner Jim Weaver informed Budd and his coach Bones McKinney that Budd would have no more second chances.
Muehlbauer got into a different kind of trouble, one of several NC State players who shaved points in 1961, including one game against Duke.
Back to Budd. Based on conversations with Weaver, McKinney assumed that Budd would be suspended for the title game against Duke.
McKinney discussed this in some detail in his book Bones: Honk Your Horn if You Love Basketball.
Budd was indeed suspended and according to McKinney “I think we could have beaten them [Duke] without Dave, cause our team was mad.”
But the ACC’s executive committee overruled Weaver and Budd was re-instated a couple of hours before tipoff.
McKinney tried to pivot, telling Budd and his teammates to expect a hostile crowd.
“There’s going to be some booing out there tonight, boys,” he told his team. “But we’re behind Dave and we know we can overcome it and win this game.”
McKinney added that his team was “hopping mad.”
Until the pregames when Budd was met not with boos but a thunderous ovation of support.
So much for that motivational tactic.
McKinney wrote that the unexpected events “suddenly turned a fighting bunch of Demon Deacons into a bunch of confused pussy-cats.”
Perhaps. Or perhaps not. But a great story.
In any event, the game was competitive for 40 tense minutes. Len Chappell, Wake’s great 6-8, 240-pounder dominated early until Bubas surprised McKinney by putting the 6-2 Mullen at the point of Duke’s 1-3-1 zone with instructions to limit Chappell’s touches.
Wake scored the last six points of the first half and led 31-30 at intermission. There were seven ties in the second half and neither team led by more than five points during that stretch.
Kistler kept finding soft spots in Wake’s zone. His jumper put Duke up 59-58, with about two minutes left. Duke’s defense dug deep and John Frye made all four of his foul shots in the final minute.
The final was 63-59.
Kistler led everyone with 22 points. He hit 10 of 15 from the field. Youngkin added 10 points and 11 rebounds, Hurt 14 points and Frye 12.
Wake out-rebounded Duke 51-34, with Budd grabbing 15 and Chappell 14.
So much for McKinney’s pussy-cat-theory.
But Duke’s zone held Wake to 34 percent shooting, while keeping them off the line; Wake shot only 13 foul shots.
Duke’s starters played 198 combined minutes.
In the post-game McKinney shook Bubas’ hand and complained that “I taught you that defense. I didn’t think you’d use it against me.”
Bubas said that the key to the title was getting back to the basics.
“I just decided that I had been overcoaching, that it was time for me to be through with all my experiments.”
He said that he gave his team four goals to victory: discipline, sacrifice, desire and organization.
“They came through with all four.”
Kistler was named tournament MVP and was joined on the first team by Hurt. Somehow Youngkin was named to the tournament’s second team, despite giving the champions 51 points and 44 rebounds in three games.
It didn’t matter all that much. Duke had more basketball to play.