Faced with a governor trying to stop them from playing Loyola, the Mississippi State basketball team did the honorable thing—they snuck out of the state. When the two teams faced off, security was tight. The game went off without a hitch. Loyola came from behind to win, 61-51.
Loyola’s next game was more relaxed, with no off-court drama. They blew past Illinois, 79-64.
Next the Ramblers moved to Louisville for the Final Four. Their opening opponent was Duke, another all-white team from the South, ranked #2 in the nation. Again Loyola won easily, 94-75.
Now it was Saturday, March 23, 1963. Loyola was set to meet the Cincinnati Bearcats for the NCAA championship. It was a dream match-up—college basketball’s top offense versus college basketball’s toughest defense. And few people gave Loyola a chance.
Cincinnati had won the last two NCAA tournaments. They were trying to become the first college in history to post a three-peat. The current team had an aura of invincibility. Some bookies were listing the Bearcats as 25-to-1 favorites.
Loyola looked nervous in the first half, missing 13 of their first 14 shots. Harkness was totally shut out. Luckily for the Ramblers, Cincinnati was having problems, too. The half ended with Cincinnati on top, but only by 29-21.
Cincinnati came out hard in the second half, widening their lead to 45-30. However, three players were in foul trouble. With nearly 15 minutes left, the Cincinnati coach decided to play safe and put on a stall. In 1963 there was no shot-clock.