The O'Brien twins had moved on. Largely responsible for elevating the Seattle University basketball program to the Division I level and advancing the Chieftains to both the NIT and NCAA tournaments for the first time, the brothers had used up their eligibility and signed pro baseball contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 1953-54 SU hoop team wasn't expected to be nearly as good as its 28-3, heavily O'Brien-influenced predecessor. But a funny thing happened on the way to emptying out Johnny's and Eddie's lockers: These Chieftains were just as good.
Without its two All-American players, SU proceeded to lose only its season opener to Wichita State 82-68 at home and a season-ending NCAA Tournament game to Idaho State 77-75 in overtime in Corvallis, Ore., while rattling off a school-record 26-game winning streak.
On Feb. 26, 1954, SU pummeled the Portland Pilots 93-69 before 4,438 fans at Civic Auditorium for win No. 26. All the Chieftains needed was one more victory to tie Seton Hall for the longest winning streak in NCAA history at the time. While everything else fell conveniently into place that season, an ultimate milestone did not.
With Seattle U returning to full Division I championship eligibility 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 fifth in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
In the 1954 regular-season finale, and final victory of the near three-month-long binge, 12 of the 13 players who appeared against Portland scored that night. SU coach Al Brightman started a different five-man lineup to begin the second quarter. The Chieftains used a lot of guys to get the job done and relied on players such as Joe Pehanick, Cal Bauer and Stan Glowaski to take turns as the nightly scoring leader.
The ensuing Idaho State loss and basketball record book near-miss was hardly a crushing outcome. SU players took the streak-ending upset in stride, likely because 26 wins were never once envisioned for this rebuilding team. Plus there were some untimely personnel losses.
On the day of the NCAA game, the Chieftains had a reserve player ruled ineligible and another, a former starter, officially declared out with a broken foot. All of a sudden, they were a little shorthanded as they entered the postseason.
"I don't have any lingering emotion," said John Kelly, a forward on that overachieving SU team. "I think we took solace that we would have won had we been at full strength. It would have been different. We looked at it philosophically."
There was ready disappointment at finally losing again, but SU, which climbed as high as sixth in the national rankings, wasn't going to let anyone diminish what took place. In the end, that team had accomplished a great deal.
"We were certainly very aware we had the longest Division I win streak that year," Kelly said.
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