Princeton basketball has enjoyed triumphant moments in March, including a Final Four appearance in 1965, an NIT championship in 1975, and an NCAA Tournament upset of defending-champion UCLA in 1996. But the month has brought its share of heartache as well.
At PAW Online, fans have been sharing their memories of Princeton’s 1989 NCAA Tournament loss to Georgetown, which marks its 25th anniversary this month. In March 1959, 30 years before Alonzo Mourning swatted away the ’89 Tigers’ chances for victory, Princeton endured a last-second loss at the hands of another future NBA star: Dartmouth’s Rudy LaRusso.
Princeton and Dartmouth had emerged as the Ivy League’s elite teams in 1958-59. They split their two meetings, and each team swept the rest of its conference schedule, setting up a one-game playoff held at Yale.
Led by LaRusso, a high-scoring power forward who later starred for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warriors, Dartmouth sprinted to a 17-point lead in the opening half. Tiger coach Cappy Cappon’s “iron five” — Carl Belz ’59, Herman Belz ’59, Jim Branagan ’60, Joseph Burns ’59, and Artie Klein ’60, all of whom played the entire game — cut the deficit to a more manageable five points before intermission.
With four minutes remaining, Princeton finally recaptured the lead, 62-61, on a Carl Belz layup, and eventually widened that advantage to 66-61. But missed free-throws and turnovers opened the door for Dartmouth. Trailing 68-67 with four seconds left, Dartmouth inbounded the ball to LaRusso, who quickly found a path to the basket and scored the winning layup as time expired. Ecstatic students mobbed the court and carried LaRusso on their shoulders, according to The Daily Princetonian.
The Tigers would see better days in the future, including eight Ivy titles in the 1960s. For the Big Green, 1959 remains their last championship season.