It was coincidence that a few weeks ago, what will go down as a legendary, buzzer-beating shot in playoff college basketball came 75 seasons after an even better one, and for a team right here in Rhode Island.
With less than three seconds on the clock April 3, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs charged his way into college hoop lore with an incredible, 40-foot three-pointer that sent his team to the NCAA championship game.
Gonzaga’s march toward the national crown was subsequently halted by Baylor, but Suggs’s effort promises to endure.
Only time will tell if it measures up in longevity to “The shot heard round the world,“ Ernie Calverley’s unimaginable, 62-foot heave that led Rhode Island State College into an overtime win against Bowling Green at Madison Square Garden.
The victory eventually took the Rams to the final round of the 1946 National Invitational Tournament, considered by many at the time the country’s premier post-season event, where they lost to top-seeded Kentucky by a single point.
Iconic sportswriter Red Smith, then with the New York Herald Tribune, described the 5’10”, 138-pound Calverley as “a gaunt, pale young case of malnutrition.”
Indeed, Calverley’s physique was in contrast to that of Gonzaga’s 6’4”, 205-pound Suggs.
Still, Smith wrote admiringly of Calverley after the shot, “…when he lays his hand on that ball and starts moving, he is a whole troop of Calverley, including the pretty white horses. The guy is terrific, colossal, and also very good.”
Pawtucket native Calverley, an adroit ball handler ideal for the fast-paced game developed by his coach, Frank Keaney, played for a small, rural state college that had yet to become the University of Rhode Island. Despite a 19-2 record, it was hardly a betting favorite in a tourney showcasing some powerful and bigger opponents – Bowling Green’s All-American center was 6’11’’, while the tallest man for the Rams was 6’ 2”.
Still, with Bowling Green leading 72-70 and seconds remaining in regulation, Calverley took an inbounds pass three-quarters of a court away from the basket and let fly the remarkable two-hander that will be remembered always in local basketball lore. It helped him earn him the tourney’s Most Valuable Player award and later, a place in the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.
Oddsmakers aside, Rhode Island’s plucky team became the fan favorite in Manhattan, so much so that one wire service reported, “The only thing Rhode Island didn’t win at the NIT… was the tournament.”
Providence Journal sportswriter Barney Madden dubbed Calverley “the willowy wizard of basketball,” and a writer for the New York Daily News termed him “the bony Sinatra of the court,” while noting that his famous shot seemed to come from “some place on Broadway.”
Heady stuff for a kid who normally played in URI’s tiny Rodman Hall, with its wood backboards that Keaney later replaced with glass. Legend has it that to prepare his team for the vapors of smoke-filled Madison Square Garden, Keaney had the team manager burn tobacco leaves in smudge pots during workouts at Rodman.
Calverley, who died in 2003, played some pro ball after graduation and later returned to coach the Rams, leading them twice to single-game appearances in the NCAA tourney.
If you want to see a replay of Jalen Suggs’s recent bucket, go online and you’ll find plenty of video.
Sadly, if you’re looking for Calverley’s, forget about it. That night in 1946, just before he fired “The shot heard round the world,” the game’s camera crew ran out of film. So the flight of that basketball, sailing high and true over 62 feet of hardwood, was never recorded – except in the memories of more than 18,000 fans who were there and would never forget it.
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.
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