Article originally published in the Owensboro Messenger, March 25, 1951, written by Will Grimsley, AP Sportswriter.
New York, March 24. — Shelby Linville’s nerve-stabbing goal in the last 18 seconds gave mighty Kentucky a close-shave 76-74 victory over Illinois tonight in the eastern finals of the NCAA basketball tournament.
The nation’s No. 1 ranked team thus qualified to meet Kansas State for the championship next Tuesday at Minneapolis. Kansas State smothered Oklahoma A. and M., in the western finals at Kansas City, 68-44.
Linville, who went in for string-bean Bill Spivey when the seven-foot All-American was benched on excessive fouls with three minutes to play, scored three spectacular layup goals in the pulsating finish before a crowd of 16,425 at Madison Square Garden.
Scrappy Illinois, fighting the two-time national champions right down to the gun, took the ball out of bounds after Linville’s climatic goal and made a desperate effort to level the fray.
Don Sunderlage, the team’s great captain and wheelhorse, took a shot at the basket but the ball bounded off the rim and for the third time in history Kentucky had shattered Illinois’ hopes of a national title.
The Wildcats also eliminated the Big Ten representative in the 1942 and 1949 tournaments.
The western conference champions, completely unawed by Kentucky’s record of 30 victories in 32 games, played the Wildcats off their feet for the first half, leading 39-32 at that stage.
But Kentucky, with Spivey finding his delicate feather touch around the boards, stormed back to tie the score 39-39 after two minutes of the second half and set the stage for the tremendous windup.
Before Spivey went out on personal fouls, he had thrown in 28 points, just four short of the tournament record set by North Carolina State’s Sam Ranzino in 1950, and he had dominated both boards in the second half.
Illinois, sparked by its shooting duo, Sunderlage and unsung Rod Fletcher, almost matched Spivey goal for goal. Fletcher, a junior from Champaign, Ill., who usually confines himself to rebounding, scored 21 points, including eight field goals. Sunderlage finished the evening with 20.
It was Fletcher who was responsible for sending Spivey to the sidelines with Kentucky clinging to a precarious 70-69 lead and three minutes to go.
Shifting into the pivot, he drove for the basket and forced the fifth foul from the gangling Kentuckian from Macon, Ga. Fletcher missed
his shot and then proceeded to miss two important free throws.
Linville then put Kentucky ahead 72-69 with a headlong layup shot that didn’t even hit the rim.
Ted Beach, Illinois’ long shot artist who didn’t find the range tonight, tossed in a free throw and then Irv Bemoras, sophomore from Chicago, tied the score at 72-72.
Linville then hit again—his second time in as many minutes—only to see Sunerlage knot the count again at 74-74 with a half minute remaining. Here Kentucky took the ball up the floor and Linville connected from under the basket while the crowd stood on its toes and let out a rafter-rocking roar.
Three players fouled out for Kentucky in the last half. Cliff Hagan, the sophomore forward from Owensboro, Ky., went out at 4:40. Lucian Whitaker, a crack floor man, followed Spivey to the sidelines.
Illinois lost Bob Peterson, its six-foot-eight, 230-pound pivot man, with six minutes left in the game.
Walter Cornett, of Glendale, Kentucky, is the owner and operator of Walter’s Wildcat World. He founded WildcatWorld.com in 1998 making it one of the oldest Kentucky basketball fan sites in operation today.