Seton Hall basketball: In NIT semifinal vs. Georgia, chasing history


The last time Seton Hall basketball won the National Invitation Tournament, in 1953, a record-sized crowd of 18,500 turned out at Madison Square Garden to watch the Pirates beat St. John’s for the title. That was more than double the attendance at the NCAA Tournament final, won by Indiana over Kansas.

College basketball fans were left to debate which team was better. Seton Hall ended up ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press’s final poll, behind the Hoosiers. St. John’s was seventh.

“You have to be pretty elderly at this point to remember the teams that came to New York City for the NIT were the cream of the crop,” Henry Cooper said last week.

Cooper, now 92, started at forward for the Pirates for most of that 31-2 campaign. This week, as Seton Hall heads into the NIT semifinals for the first time in 71 years – Tuesday’s game against Georgia tips at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2, after Indiana State and Utah in the other semi – the tournament is long-established as a consolation to the NCAA’s. But that doesn’t render it meaningless. In fact, the Hall’s run after getting snubbed for the Big Dance has energized alums and given its players some lifetime memories.

“You always have pride for your school and your former team,” said Cooper, who is living in North Carolina. “It makes me feel good that I can talk to friends about it. Most of my friends are aware that I played a hundred years ago.”

Racist taunts and a brawl

Cooper averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds for the 1952-53 Pirates, who opened the season with 27 straight wins and held the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll for six weeks. They were coached by Naismith Hall of Famer John “Honey” Russell, who already had been the inaugural head coach of the Boston Celtics. At center stood 7-foot All-American Walter Dukes, who averaged 26 points and 22 rebounds per game and was a pioneer as one of the sport’s first African-American stars.

Dukes endured racist taunts – at least two opposing players…

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Author : | Asbury Park Press

Publish date : 2024-04-01 11:03:40

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