“The Year of the Tiger:” the 1964-1965 Basketball Season at Princeton

The 1964-1965 basketball season was an unprecedented season of success for the Princeton men’s team as it played some of the finest basketball in the country, led by All-American and captain Bill Bradley ’65. During that magical season, the Tigers won the Ivy League title and earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. By season’s end they had bested teams from Navy, Syracuse, Rutgers, Cornell, and Providence. Bradley, arguably one of the best athletes ever to play at Princeton, led a talented group of juniors and up-and-coming sophomores as they demonstrated that an Ivy League team, devoid of scholarship players, could hold their own, and indeed, compete with basketball powerhouses such as Michigan and North Carolina State.

Princeton’s season opened on December 2nd with an 83-74 victory over Lafayette College. Crowds filled Dillon Gymnasium to watch the team, and as the end of December approached, Princeton was 6-2. Then at New York City’s Madison Square Garden (2:34), where the annual Holiday Festival tournament was played, Princeton opened with a victory over Syracuse. But the match-up everyone was anxious to watch pitted Princeton against the University of Michigan — then the number one ranked team in the country. Michigan’s star player was Cazzie Russell, a versatile 6’ 6” all court player.

The first half was a fairly evenly matched contest, with Princeton securing a 39-37 half time edge. During the second half, Princeton opened up a significant lead. With four and a half minutes to go, the Tigers lead by 12 (4:52). But, the game quickly turned when Bradley was called for his fifth and final personal foul — a costly error that sent him to the bench for the remainder of the game. Without their floor generaBradley2x.jpgl, Princeton struggled to find its rhythm, but managed to keep things close. With less than a minute to play, they still led by two points. In the waning seconds (6:08), Michigan put the ball in Russell’s hands, and he did not disappoint, nailing the winning shot which gave Michigan an 80-78 victory. It was not the last time that these two teams would meet during the season. Nor would it be the last time that Bradley and Russell would compete together. Both played on New York Knicks teams in the late 1960s. (The Daily Princetonian, January 5, 1965)

Successful teams are rarely made by heroics or skills of just one player. Bradley was coached by Butch van Breda Kolff ’45 (pictured below left). During his tenure from 19Bradley4x.jpg62-1967, van Breda Kolff posted a 103-31 record, claimed four Ivy League championships, including three in a row, and took a team to the NCAA Final Four tournament. Van Breda Kolff’s teams were known for their strong defensive play and relied heavily on man-to-man defending. Deft ball handling skills, movement off the ball, and fast breaks were keys to his offensive strategy.
Bradley, a true team player, was linked with a promising group of sophomores and two contributing juniors (6:38). He could count on Robbie Brown ’67 for rebounding, Gary Walters ’67 to handle the ball and defend, while Ed Hummer ’67 added additional defensive skills. Bob Haarlow ’66 and Don Rodenbach ’66 shared the scoring burden as backcourt players.  (The Daily Princetonian, January 22, 1965)
Bradley6x.jpgWhen Princeton welcomed Cornell University to an excited and crowded Dillon Gymnasium on February 27, 1965, the Ivy League title was at stake (10:21). Princeton was also eager to avenge a January loss to Cornell. The gym was packed to the rafters with 3,250 fans; another 1,700 watched the game via closed circuit television on campus. When the final buzzer rang, Princeton had won its third consecutive Ivy League basketball title, defeating Cornell 107-84 (13:52). In the thirty-three minutes that Bradley played he scored 33 points. Fellow Tiger players carried both him and their coach off the floor in jubilation. With the victory, Princeton had earned a spot in the NCAA post-season tournament. (The Daily Princetonian, March 1, 1965)
The NCAA tournament, often referred to now as “March Madness,” was a much smaller affair then, as only 23 teams vied for the national title (16:10). Princeton opened against Penn State in a game that was much closer than Tiger fans would have liked. Princeton squeaked by, thanks to Bradley’s second half contributions, with a 60-58 victory. They next faced North Carolina State University and defeated them more easily, earning a 66-48 win.
Bradley5x.jpgAs they advanced to the East Regional championship game, Princeton faced heavily favored Providence College, then the fourth ranked team in the nation with an impressive 24-1 record (19:55). Playing in Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland, Princeton had no problem with the Friars. At halftime, Princeton had a 13-point lead at 47-34, and the rout was on. Behind Bradley’s 41 points, the Tigers ousted Providence 109-69. (The Daily Princetonian, March 15, 1965)  More importantly, they were ranked third in the country — no Princeton team had ever had such success (23:28). But one more trip awaited them.  (The Daily Princetonian, March 18, 1965)
The NCAA men’s basketball finals (24:36) were held in March at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. (The Daily Princetonian, March 19, 1965)  In the first semi final Princeton once again faced Michigan, and the number one ranked Wolverines, with powerful rebounders, were simply too much for Princeton. Bradley, in foul trouble for much of the second half, picked up his fifth and final foul with five minutes to play, sending him to the bench, and the Tigers to a 93-76 loss. (The Daily Princetonian, March 20, 1965)
Bradley7x.jpgThe next day the team was back on the court, as they faced Wichita State in the national consolation game. Bradley let loose, scoring 58 points — an individual scoring record that still stands at Princeton — as he led his team to a 118-82 victory. In the process he earned the most valuable player award of the tournament. (The Daily Princetonian, March 22, 1965)
The Tigers finished the season with a 23-6 record. Bradley — the All-American, the team captain, the Olympian — had dazzled fans, both with his quiet, gentlemanly manner, and his superb basketball skills. At the close of the season, the Princeton men’s basketball team was the third best team in the county, and the pride of the campus community. It had truly been “The Year of the Tiger.”
-Kristen Turner
This KSP-60 U-matic video, produced by the Alumni Council of Princeton University, is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1577). All images are stills from the film featured here.

7 thoughts on ““The Year of the Tiger:” the 1964-1965 Basketball Season at Princeton

  1. Pingback: The Year of the Tiger: 1965 | Thomas Hart Academy

  2. My brother Jim played for Penn State in the NCAA game shown about 1 minute into The Year of the Tiger video. He and Bob Weiss, who later played in the NBA and was a head coach in the NBA, are the only two starters for Penn State in that game who are still alive. My other brother Frank and I attended this game. Is there any why to get the full video of that Princeton/Penn State game?

    Bill

  3. I like Bill Bradley today but boy did i despise him in 1965. I was a big Providence fan then and he single handedly beat my Friars. 109-69. It wasn’t the loss just how bad it was. I imagine Penn fans must feel the same about 1971 when they lost to Villanova in the Regional Finals 90-47. They(Penn) had beaten them by 8 about a month before.

  4. Nice article. It’s hard to imagine a team with no scholarship players competing with teams like Michigan and NC State. If that happened with today’s press coverage, during March madness, it would be considered the Cinderella story of the decade(or century). Mr. Bradley’s impressive political career can overshadow his athletic accomplishments, which it’s nice to remember, were extraordinary.

  5. Great article! I really felt I was in the stands rooting for the Tigers. I loved the footage and the cute little uniforms! I knew Bradley was a great basketball player, but I didn’t realize he was such a superstar. I like how he rejected the trappings of stardom in the NBA unlike today’s stars. He dressed modestly, spent wisely (his nickname was “Dollar Bill”), and used his spare time to sharpen his mind. I also think it’s interesting that Bradley and his biggest rival, Cazzie Russell, eventually played together on the same team, which probably helped strengthen his political skill of bipartisanship.

  6. This article was a great read. I wasn’t aware of the historical legacy left by the Princeton Tigers basketball team during their ’64-’65 season. Nor did I realize how valuable team captain, Bill Bradley, was to the team’s success. Infusing video reference times into the text was quiet smart of the author so you could quickly retrieve the part of the clip she was describing. It was refreshing to see a classic basketball team on the court. I enjoyed reading this wonderfully written article. Well done!

    Go Tigers!

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