The final horn sounded in Spokane. Seattle University basketball players headed for their bench, convinced an overtime period was coming at Gonzaga. They were stunned when the officiating crew counted a layin from Chuck Goligoski that appeared to drop well after the buzzer, supplying the underdog Bulldogs with an 82-80 victory.
The Chieftains stayed on the floor for another half hour, debating the outcome to no avail. Their mood didn't improve any once in the locker room. SU coach Al Brightman was not happy, telling his players the game never should been that close in the first place.
The expressive Brightman next left his SU players with a challenge: Lose the second game of the series the following night, and they would walk home to Seattle. No one thought he was kidding.
On Feb. 15, 1953, the Chieftains made sure their travel itinerary didn't change, that alternative transportation wasn't necessary: Fully inspired, they beat Gonzaga 109-68. Their final point total was a school record, as was Johnny O'Brien's 51-point outing.
With Seattle U returning to full Division I status for the first time in 33 years -- when the Redhawks host Washington in a women's soccer match at Championship Field on Aug. 17 -- this is the third in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
O'Brien, one of the nation's more prolific scorers in his time, said his record-breaking night wasn't motivated by his coach's displeasure. He could barely miss. He hit 17 of 21 shots from the floor, and 17 of 19 from the foul line.
"There are nights when you can kick the ball and it's going to go in," O'Brien said. "I had one of those nights."
The Chieftains were so charged up for this second game, they pressed Gonzaga from the opening tip -- without any such directive from Brightman. They trailed only 4-2 before rolling to a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter, a 27-point advantage at half and a healthy 36-point edge after three quarters.
"The adrenaline was flowing our way," O'Brien said.
Points were never a problem for O'Brien, who played in the post even while standing no taller than 5-foot-9. He beat bigger players with his quickness. The season before, O'Brien was the first collegiate player to score 1,000 points or more, finishing with 1,051.
O'Brien's previous game scoring high was 41 collected earlier that season against Boston College. His Seattle U scoring record would stand until Elgin Baylor tied it four years later, and then broke it with 53- and 60-point games during the 1957-58 season.
With his twin brother Ed feeding him, O'Brien had an uncanny way of getting to the basket, using his quickness to lose bigger defenders. He credited his coach for putting him in a position to score.
"Brightman had the innate ability to know what a person could do the best," he explained.
They worked well together: While O'Brien was proficient at scoring points; Brightman was good at making a point.