46 years ago

From the dusty old manuscript:

How good was that Duke team? The 1962-63 Blue Devils featured a pair of All-Americans in senior big man Art Heyman and junior guard Jeff Mullins, won 27 of 30 games, including all fourteen of their ACC games, and advanced to the school’s first-ever Final Four.

Heyman and Mullins initiated Duke’s position as a nationally big-time basketball school. Under the leadership of coach Vic Bubas, Duke in the early to mid-‘60s began to nudge its way into elite company -- alongside Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas, the titans of the sport. And the ’62-’63 team was the program’s first legitimate national title candidate. Duke that year was practically unstoppable -- but not unbeatable.

In the season opener for both teams, December 1 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, Duke won 76-69. Even more surprisingly, Fred Hetzel and Don Davidson each only played a little more than half the game due to foul trouble. Hetzel still finished with 22 points. But the seven-point outcome came with a lesson for both teams.

“You know,” Heyman told the Observer, “they’re plenty good.”

Heyman was convinced.

So were the Wildcats.

“Duke sweated,” said Dave Johnson, a student manager sitting on the end of the bench that night in Durham. “Our kids discovered something: ‘Hey, we’re as good as those guys -- if not better.’”

The rematch was 17 days later in Charlotte.

The Blue Devils, ranked second in the nation, entered the game on December 18, 1962, as a 23-point favorite. They sure didn’t look like it in the first half. Getting 18 points from Hetzel in the opening 20 minutes, Davidson outrebounded Duke 26-15 as the Wildcats built a 39-28 advantage at half. The Blue Devils crept closer throughout the second half, cutting the Wildcat lead to 70-67 within the final minute of regulation.

But Barry Teague, Davidson’s “Little General,” stripped Heyman of the ball and as fouled on the other end. In one of the signature images of the last generation of Davidson basketball, Teague sank a pair of free throws to push the margin to five points. Blue Devil post player Hack Tison made a meaningless layup at the buzzer to account for the final score of 72-69.

The statement had been made.

“At that point, we were there,” said Steve Clark, the sports editor of the Davidsonian that year who went on to be a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We could play with anybody in the country.”

Teague agreed.

“That was certainly a turning point,” he said in an interview in his Charlotte office in 1998. “It made believers out of a lot of people -- including us.”

Immediately after the horn sounded, Hetzel ran up to the concourse, found a pay phone and called his dad. Standing against a wall, still in full uniform, with the crowd winding out of the Coliseum, he told his dad the good news. His dad knew already. He had been listening to the game in Washington, D.C., with the radio shoved up against his ear so he could make out the raspy broadcast.

The box score in the Observer was headed simply: “Wow!” Heyman and Mullins each finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. But the big man managed only five points in the second half. Hetzel dominated throughout, with 27 points and 17 rebounds, while Bill Jarman -- a senior who as a freshman had been on a team that lost to Catawba -- ended up with 21. Duke dropped to 6-1, Davidson was 5-1, and the press erupted.

“Davidson’s basketballers,” Tom Camp wrote in the Observer, “considered by some a pea-shooter in a turkey shoot, had just clipped the wings of the Duke basketball team that has soared into the national spotlight.”

Added Phil Grose of the Observer: “The Wildcats blew the snow off Mount Olympus, settled themselves comfortably on its crest, and struck down the nation’s second-ranked basketball team.”

“Davidson can give anybody we’ve faced a hard time,” Bubas said after the game. “They simply outfight you, outshoot you, outrebound you, and beat you if you’re not ready for them.”

But the win over Duke, and what it meant for Lefty’s Davidson program -- its status within college basketball, its position in Charlotte, in Mecklenburg County, and beyond -- transcended any numbers in a box score.

Davidson was now a player on the national scene. The Coliseum was a rocking and rolling home away from home. And the Davidson Wildcats were the Dixie Darlings.

Charlotte’s team.

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