'67 Vols finally made the Big Dance

1967 Vols basketball team

Teammates talk about UT's first SEC championship ...

This year celebrates the centennial season of men's basketball at Tennessee. The News Sentinel continues its series looking into the players, teams and events that have molded an exciting history.

The term “March Madness” wasn’t yet part of the sporting vocabulary in 1967, but an excitement definitely gripped Tennessee basketball that season.

As the 1966-67 season played toward conclusion, the Vols were ranked in the top 10 and bearing down on an SEC title.

Led by two stars from Fulton High School and a 7-footer from Ohio, Tennessee was dreaming of making the program’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

To do so, however, the Vols had to win at Mississippi State in the regular-season finale.

UT hadn’t been SEC champions since 1943, when the title was awarded to the conference tournament winner. When Ron Widby broke the single-game scoring record with 50 points in a romp over LSU on March 4, it sent the Vols to Starkville with a chance to clinch the regular-season title.

The SEC tournament was in hiatus so the league’s lone berth in the NCAA tournament would go to the regular-season champ. If the Vols beat State, it was theirs. If they lost, there would be a three-way tie with Vanderbilt and Florida.

On a Monday night in Mississippi State’s “New” Gym, the Vols survived 78-76 in three overtimes to lay claim to the title with a 15-3 conference record.

Widby, a captain and All-American, scored 35 points to clinch the SEC scoring title.

Tom Hendrix stepped up with 16 points. Tom Boerwinkle, the 7-footer, had nine points and 15 rebounds.

Billy Justus, who like Widby prepped at Fulton, hit two free throws with seven seconds left to deliver the victory.

The celebration was wild. Coach Ray Mears was carried off the floor. Widby gave assistant coach Stu Aberdeen a piggy-back ride.

The Vols threw anyone they could find in the shower, including John Ward, Lowell Blanchard, Bud Ford, Marvin West and the team pilot.

They knew a berth in the Mid-East Regional in Evanston, Ill., was waiting on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Kentucky had represented the SEC in 15 of 20 previous NCAA tourneys. LSU had gone twice, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt once each.

Tennessee’s turn had finally arrived.

The Vols flew to Evanston to face Dayton, which had beaten Western Kentucky in a first-round game six days earlier.

On a Friday night in Northwestern University’s McGaw Fieldhouse, the Vols were favored by five points over the Flyers and their All-America forward Don May.

Two wins in Evanston and Tennessee would advance to the Final Four in Louisville, where, no doubt, mighty UCLA would be waiting.

“I thought we had the kind of team to give UCLA a good game,’’ Mears confided.

However, the Vols opened cold and trailed Dayton 36-25 at the half. They didn’t give up, rallyng to draw even at 50-50 with 2:09 to play on a Justus jumper.

Dayton led 51-50 when Widby missed a potential game-winner with 11 seconds to play. The Flyers held on to win 53-52.

In those days, the losers had to play a consolation game and Tennessee came up cold again, bowing to Indiana 51-44.

Dayton would advance to the national championship game, losing to UCLA, 79-64.

It would be another nine years before the Vols got back to the Big Dance in 1976. They wouldn’t record their first NCAA victory until 1979.

Still, the ‘67 Vols carved a cherished niche in Tennessee’s basketball history. Their outright SEC regular-season title wasn’t duplicated by another UT squad until 2008.

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Comments » 16

steelers6rings writes:

And the Vols of 2009 will be dancin' all the way to TBA and the NIT !!!!

stayingorange writes:

in response to RobtheVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

man some UT fans can't even appreciate the accomplishments from 40 years ago. First trip to the dance, first SEC title in more than 20 years and barely lost to the team that went to the finals. Yeah, what a disappointment - fans like you anyway.

newtonrail writes:

I hope Hamilton will wake up and retire Widby's number. Only 4 Sport Letterman. All American in Football as Punter and in Basketball. Only Tennessean to draw a Pro paycheck in three different sports: Football, Basketball, and Golf. And Naffy take a short walk off a cliff. Your racist blather has gone beyond stale. I figured out what your latest screen name means: you are ROBBING THE VOLS LEGACY.

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to tenn_smoothie:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

yep.....

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

robthevol is not a fan....
he is a whitey-hating racist pierce with mwan mouth and hatred for all things 'vol'.

folks like robthevol help create such wonders or the world as the black panther hate group, nazis, neonazis, skinheads, klan...everything is 'hate this hate that', but couched in different terms. The intent is still the same.

This is a sports forum for vol fans, I'd suggest robthevol move right on over to Limbarugh and Hanity, where he/she would be best served by the inherent hatred espoused by those individuals.

db11_cn writes:

I remember that long comeback vs Dayton, then, with possession and the clock winding down, Widby fires up a 30+ footer. All of us watching on TV screamed "NO". I don't remember if the future 7' NBA-er Boerwinkle was open or not but the inside power game or dribble-drive wasn't in vogue then. That '67 team was a great free throw shooting team and they were mentally tough as nails. Both traits came in handy in the pre-shot clock era.

JWilly writes:

I thought Mears did a very good job with what he had for the most part. Those days were very different and Mears was not the greatest coach but he was very good. To be fair, if John Wooden had been in the Mid-East Region, rather than the incredibly weak West Region, he would have had alot fewer trips to the Final Four than he did.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to stayingorange:

man some UT fans can't even appreciate the accomplishments from 40 years ago. First trip to the dance, first SEC title in more than 20 years and barely lost to the team that went to the finals. Yeah, what a disappointment - fans like you anyway.

Don't recall seeing your screen name on here before, so you probably don't know that this is just Rob's usual shtick. According to him, Tee Martin is the ONLY good football player UT has ever had and Bruce Pearl is the ONLY good basketball coach UT has ever had. He's actually kinda OCD about it. The other 100+ years of Vol sports history and the hundreds or thousands of other Vol athletes don't count for anything. Most of us think he is about 13 years old, in mentality and maturity, anyway.

johnlg00 writes:

BTW, I played HS basketball against Widby and Justus when they were at Fulton. Justus was a sophomore, I was a junior, and Widby was a senior. They were really good in HS, but I was somewhat surprised that they were as good at UT as they turned out to be. I was at UT with all the guys on that team, so not surprisingly they are one of my favorite UT teams of all time. This current Vol team could have really used Widby's great mid-range touch and Justus' ice-cold nerve at the free-throw line!

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to johnlg00:

BTW, I played HS basketball against Widby and Justus when they were at Fulton. Justus was a sophomore, I was a junior, and Widby was a senior. They were really good in HS, but I was somewhat surprised that they were as good at UT as they turned out to be. I was at UT with all the guys on that team, so not surprisingly they are one of my favorite UT teams of all time. This current Vol team could have really used Widby's great mid-range touch and Justus' ice-cold nerve at the free-throw line!

so, didn't Mike Edwards and JOhn Snow play wthile you where at UT?? My memory is slipping on that. I know Edwards came before Snow.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Timed_vol:

so, didn't Mike Edwards and JOhn Snow play wthile you where at UT?? My memory is slipping on that. I know Edwards came before Snow.

According to this year's media guide, Edwards played from 1971 to 1973--though I am sure he played at least three years on the varsity--and Snow was later than that. I could be wrong, but I thought Snow was one of DeVoe's players, and that would make him even later.

BillVol writes:

"Flew to Evanston"? It's not possible to fly to Evanston. No airport there. More likely they flew to Chicago and bussed to E-town.

vut56#231073 writes:

Interesting comments here; insisting that tonight's game is all that matters is rather sad; it is like failing to recognize that without George Washington, we may not have had a nation or a constitution. Without Lincoln, we may not have had a Union; without J. Saulk, polio may have still been lurking and so on.

Ray Mears, Chuck Rohe, Dr. Julian and Doug Dickey helped restore a Tennessee tradition...which was primarily based on football during Neyland/Wyatt years; it was during this time that "Big Orange Country" was coined and came to mean something.

History does not feed one today or get us into the next BCS game; without it, the next BCS game, or trip to the final four might be a moot point. The path from there leads us here and we should not forget it.

That was a great group, in '67, and they produced the same chills and thrills as anything that can happen this weekend.

vut56#231073 writes:

in response to BillVol:

"Flew to Evanston"? It's not possible to fly to Evanston. No airport there. More likely they flew to Chicago and bussed to E-town.

Technical point; of course they could have flown into Evanston, then; there was most definitely commercial flights into Evanston into the eighties; done it many times. Today? Have no clue, but they had an airport and service into the eighties.

always_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to johnlg00:

According to this year's media guide, Edwards played from 1971 to 1973--though I am sure he played at least three years on the varsity--and Snow was later than that. I could be wrong, but I thought Snow was one of DeVoe's players, and that would make him even later.

Snow was a little later...he was to be the next 'shooter' but got mono one year.

By 'later': he was after Edwards.

dalvol writes:

I listened to the Mississippi State game on the radio in my apartment just off Cumberland Ave. I went to bed soon afterwards only to be awakened by the celebration taking place on Cumberland. I decided to get up and go join the other students. Everyone was excited and it was fun! I went to Chicago with the band for the NCAA games, but we were all disappointed with the two losses. Justus, Widby, and Boerwinkle gave us some good basketball there for a couple of years!

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