Marquette-DePaul Rivalry Has Provided Plenty Of Memories For Players & Fans
Feb. 1, 2010
By Dan McGrath, '72
DePaul's Mike Stovall hit an off-balance, 20-foot fallaway jump shot with less than a second remaining to pin a 51-50 defeat on Marquette at Allstate Arena on Jan. 20.
You might have heard. It made all the papers.
Aside from the degree of difficulty, Stovall's shot was significant in that it ended DePaul's 24-game losing streak in Big East regular-season games. Marquette was responsible for two of those losses and had won six of its previous seven games with the Blue Demons.
Marquette holds a 64-44 edge in the series, which dates to 1917. The schools have long since abandoned their independent status for conference affiliation, first the Great Midwest, then Conference USA, now the mighty Big East. But the rivalry still has a history of turning on quirky developments.
"The games have always been close, always competitive, even when one team has the edge in talent," says Hank Raymonds, who has witnessed more of them than anyone as Marquette's assistant coach, head coach, athletic director and No. 1 supporter since 1961. "We always knew we were playing for something. Years ago it might have been the NCAA tournament---we were both independent, and there were only so many at-large bids. These days we're in the same conference.
"The players know each other, the students know each other. Two Catholic schools, the alumni ... It makes for a great rivalry, very competitive."
The most notorious game in the series occurred on Feb. 3, 1968. Al McGuire, in his fourth year at Marquette, had the then-Warriors rolling toward their first NCAA tournament berth since 1961 with a 13-3 record. They were looking to complete a season sweep at DePaul's Alumni Hall, where they had lost five in a row, but the Blue Demons (12-5) were having none of it after getting spanked 72-50 at the Milwaukee Arena a month earlier.
Less than a minute after the opening tip, Marquette's Pat Smith and DePaul's Bob Zoretich tangled in a territorial skirmish under the DePaul basket. An exchange of elbows led to punches, a split lip for Zoretich and the ejection of both centers. Coach Ray Meyer went ballistic after Marquette's 58-53 victory, suggesting the fight was a ploy to deprive the Blue Demons of a top player and narrow the talent gap.
"I lose my No. 2 scorer and Al loses a stumble-bum who couldn't throw it in the ocean if he was standing on the beach," Meyer griped.
The quote engaged McGuire's finely tuned promotional instincts. Two days later he brought Smith and a photographer to the shore of Lake Michigan and had his junior center fling a blue-and-gold beach ball into the freezing water. The photo was circulated throughout the country, and even Meyer eventually got a laugh out of it---he and McGuire became great friends over the years.
Smith, undersized but fiercely combative at 6-foot-2, wasn't known for his offense, but he had outscored Zoretich 15-5 in the season's first meeting. George Thompson, a junior forward on his way to an All-America season for Marquette, scoffs at the "ploy" theory and recalls the fight as an outgrowth of the hostility the Warriors routinely encountered at Alumni Hall.
"That place was a pit, equal to [Duke's] Cameron or any gym that's considered a tough place to play today," Thompson says.
Alumni Hall held 5,300 fans, maybe 5,600 if the fire marshal looked the other way. As McGuire elevated Marquette's profile, the demand for tickets increased among MU alums in Chicago, but DePaul hoarded them to preserve its noisy homecourt advantage.
"It was fun to go down there and win behind enemy lines," Thompson says. Marquette, he insists, was never intimidated, even when Meyer put beefy Sevira Brown in the game for the sole purpose of matching muscle with Thompson, who was known as "Brute Force" for his acrobatic, explosive drives to the basket.
"He was their enforcer, but I'd been playing against pros up in the Rucker League since I was 15 years old, and where I come from you met force with more force," New York native Thompson says. "Plus I knew I had him athletically."
Thompson was 2-1 at Alumni Hall and has good memories of the place. "People would get on Al, yell and scream, throw stuff at us," he says, smiling at the recollection. "A couple of times the gendarmes had to walk us out."
Those same gendarmes would capture national attention with their treatment of anti-war protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but Marquette never reported any trouble with Chicago police, even as a sea change occurred in the rivalry. The Smith-Zoretich set-to occurred in the second of 19 straight Marquette victories, longest streak in the series for either team.
"DePaul just sort of fell off there for a while, for whatever reason, and we were able to go into Chicago and get some good players," Raymonds says, recalling Marcus Washington, Lloyd Walton, Rick Campbell, Bo Ellis and Jerome Whitehead as big-time contributors to the most successful era in school history.
"We won seven out of eight from DePaul in my four years," Ellis says. "Being from Chicago, I loved playing DePaul, especially at Alumni Hall when it was packed to the rafters."
McGuire's guile often had the Demons believing they were facing seven men, home or away.
"One of my strongest memories of the series is Al McGuire working the referees---he had some guys in his hip pocket," says Joe Ponsetto, a DePaul forward from 1974-78. "It sounds like whining 30 years later, but it's true. One night he yelled to the ref that I was pushing skinny Bo Ellis around, at our place, and sure enough, I got two fouls just like that. I said to the guy, `You're letting him intimidate you,' and he T'd me up."
Ponsetto, married to DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, now officiates college games himself and knows when a referee is being worked.
"Coach Meyer would react to calls," he says. "Coach McGuire would lobby for them."
Ironically, Marquette's streak ended in 1977, with the Blue Demons' 77-72 victory at the Milwaukee Arena.
"It was the only time I ever saw Coach Al smile after a loss," Ellis recalls. "He wasn't happy with us, but he was happy for Coach Meyer. We'd been beating DePaul up pretty good for a number of years, and I think it was OK with Al that he finally got us."
The double-overtime loss didn't derail Marquette's national-championship run that season, but it did signal another shift in the rivalry: With McGuire stepping aside, DePaul would win eight of the next nine games and 13 of 16 between 1978 and 1988, even after abandoning cozy Alumni Hall for the Horizon, a remote, charmless 18,000-seat facility in suburban Rosemont.
A 62-56 loss in the NCAA tournament's West Regional semifinal at Provo, Utah, in 1979 was especially painful for Raymonds, who had succeeded McGuire after the NCAA title run.
"We had them beat, up seven, when I made a terrible mistake," Raymonds recalls. "DePaul was pressing, and I went for the bundle---I had us throw it deep against their press. We threw it away, and they came down and scored. Then they took a bucket away from us on a charging call against Michael Wilson, DePaul scored again, and all the momentum went their way."
Wilson was a freshman starter at guard that season. Thirty-one years later, the call still rankles.
"No way was that a charge," he says. "We got robbed."
DePaul would go on to beat UCLA in the regional final, which meant a trip to the Final Four for Meyer, known the world over as "Coach," even to his family. McGuire, on his way to greater fame and fortune as an NBC broadcaster, called the UCLA game and was clearly pulling for his former rival to enjoy a moment in the sun.
"I think Al was more excited when we won than Coach," says Joey Meyer, who had joined his father's staff after finishing his DePaul playing career in 1971.
The Larry Bird-Magic Johnson showdown took center stage at the '79 Final Four in Salt Lake City, but Ray Meyer's presence in his 37th year at DePaul was a feel-good sidelight.
"If people could have heard some of his halftime speeches, I don't know if that `America's Grandfather' act would have caught on," Joey Meyer says. "Behind closed doors, Coach could be a screamer."
Ray Meyer would follow McGuire into retirement in 1984, but not before leaving one noted Marquette figure with an indelible memory.
"I had the dubious honor of coaching against Ray in his last regular-season game at DePaul, the last game he would coach in Chicago," says Rick Majerus, a longtime MU assistant who succeeded Raymonds in 1983. "I loved the guy, but come on. We came out of the locker room just before the game and the officials are all over Ray, slapping him on the back and posing for pictures with him. I turned to my assistants and said, `I don't think we're going to win today.'
They didn't, and they would do so only sporadically over the next several seasons.
Years before succeeding his father, Joey Meyer had adopted a "seal the borders" recruiting strategy. DePaul became a national power through local talent, keeping Chicago-area stars like Ponsetto, Dave Corzine, Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings "home" rather than losing them to rival schools such as Marquette.
"Joey was a good coach and an excellent recruiter," Raymonds says. "Competitive, just like his father. They were both good people. And Marge (Ray's wife, Joey's mother)---what a sweetheart."
Joey Meyer extended the Meyer Dynasty to 55 years at DePaul. The Blue Demons remained an NCAA tournament perennial into the early `90s and pretty much had their way with Marquette, going 10-4 from 1985-91 until Kevin O'Neill reversed the trend in his third year as MU's coach. O'Neill lost four of his first five games against DePaul, but ended his five-year Marquette tenure on a five-game winning streak.
"A lot of the students and the Wisconsin kids thought Notre Dame and Wisconsin were our biggest rivals, but Coach O'Neill was always really intense about DePaul because they were conference games," says MU broadcaster Jim McIlvaine, Marquette's center from 1990-94 and the school's career leader in blocked shots.
"I think the fact that the players all knew each other added something to it. Damon Key and I would go down to Chicago in the summer and play with the DePaul guys. I played against Stephen Howard my first two years, then we were teammates [with Seattle] in the NBA and we're still good friends."
DePaul is on its fourth coach since Joey Meyer and Marquette is on its third since O'Neill, but the rivalry has remained one-sided in the Golden Eagles' favor. Mike Deane (10-2), Tom Crean (12-4) and Buzz Williams (2-1) all had winning records against DePaul, in part because of a restored Chicago connection: Brian Wardle, Dwyane Wade and Jerel McNeal are all Chicago-area products, each a major contributor to Marquette's success over the last decade, Wade in particular.
Dan McGrath will provide a series of men's basketball features exclusive to GoMarquette.com all season long. McGrath is sports coordinator of the Chicago News Cooperative and former sports editor of the Chicago Tribune. He is a proud 1972 graduate of Marquette University.