Today in Philly Sports History: Nova Wins Championship, 1985

Today in Philly Sports History: Nova Wins Championship, 1985
April 1, 2010, 5:00 am
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Fun as it was to root for underdog stories like Cornell, Northern Iowa and St. Mary's (well...maybe not St. Mary's) in this year's NCAA tournament, few among us believed that they had what it took to make it all the way to the finals, and during the Sweet Sixteen, we were fairly well vindicated. Because this happens basically every year--a low-seeded team wins the first couple rounds, they start playing the "nobody believes in us" card, and a handful of prognosticators talk themselves into believing that they actually have a shot at the title. Then they play one good team too many, and the dream is over. It's the same story every time.

Except on April 1st, 1985. Villanova had been an eighth-seed for the '85 tournament, with 10 losses and just a 9-7 overall conference record, inspiring confidence in few that they could make a Final Four run. But they won their first round match against Dayton, and then upset #1-seeded Michigan, and started to build a little forward momentum. Maryland fell next, followed by North Carolina, and then in their Final Four matchup, down went Memphis State. Suddenly, the Wildcats found themselves head to head with the returning champion Georgetown Hoyas, led by Naismith Player of the Year Patirck Ewing, with a chance to win it all.

Naturally, few imagined the Cats would have a chance against the dominant defense of Georgetown, especially after they blew out the high-powered St. John's in their Final Four match and were starting to inspire talk of an NCAA dynasty. But Villanova's patience on offense--aided by the absence of a 24-second shot clock, the last such tourney to be played that way--helped them control the game's pace, and allowed them to dismantle the Hoyas defense to the tune of an astounding (and NCAA-record) 79% field goal percentage. Led by center Ed Pinckney's 16 points and six rebounds, the Cats held strong, and pulled off the 66-64 stunner to become the lowest-seeded NCAA team to ever win the national title--a record that remains to this day.

Pinckney was named tournament MVP, and would end up getting taken with the tenth pick in the '85 draft by the Phoenix Suns. Five other players from that Nova team--Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain, Harold Pressley, Chuck Everson and Harold Jensen--would also end up getting drafted, but only Pinckney survived into the 90s, enjoying a journeyman-ish career that included a stop with the Sixers in '95-'96. "We are remembered as the ultimate underdog," said Pinckney about the Wildcats' '85 Cinderella run. "Everyone has their defining moment in sports, and that was ours."

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