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50 Years Later, Game of Change Belongs Again to Loyola

Half a century has passed since Mississippi State had to sneak out in the middle of the night to play an integrated Loyola team in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams met for the first time since that March night on Saturday, to pay homage to the players who risked so much to help change this country.


It has been 50 years since Mississippi State had to sneak out of the south to play Loyola, in a game at Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. That game was relived Saturday night in Chicago, with the Ramblers once again getting the best of the Bulldogs, 59-51.

There is no doubt that racism still exists today -- maybe not to the extent that it did back in the 1960s, but it still is there. Given that, it is still amazing to imagine an entire basketball team needing to leave under the cover of night just to play a game.

That feeling had to be shared by many in attendance during the replay Saturday, the first time that the Bulldogs and Loyola had met since that tournament game. When the players and coaches from both teams were introduced at halftime, the loudest cheers were still for the home team's alums.

What was missing were the massive cheers for the players from that Mississippi State team, a team that went against the state's own government to play an integrated squad. What was missing was the appreciation of the strength and courage that it took those young men to stand up for what was right in a time when so much was wrong with this country.

While the game has gotten a lot of press, and a lot of attention in the past few months, ever since it was announced that the two teams would meet again, I think it is still hard to comprehend for so many that are under the age of 40 what life was like in the U.S. at the time.

To many, this is just another game on the schedule. For many of that other generation, this was a statement.

It definitely isn't lost on the players from that night. It definitely isn't lost on the players today in this game -- how they couldn't be playing this game without the courage of the men who went before them.

It is just difficult to recreate what was happening in this country at the time.

Saturday night once again belonged to Loyola, playing against an injury depleted Mississippi State team. It wasn't the prettiest performance by the Ramblers, but one that got the job done.

Perhaps that says something about Loyola this season, a team that has been making some noise in the early going. Could they be a sleeper -- along with crosstown rivals Illinois-Chicago -- in the Horizon League?

A lot of that will depend on how the defense improves over the next month or so. Things don't get easier for Loyola with games against the best talent in the Horizon next on the schedule.

The offensive numbers have been there. They have excelled at shooting and rebounding. They just need to take away the ball a little better, and hold onto it more than they have in the early going.

They haven't exactly been tested in the nonconference season, but Porter Moser has a young squad, one that has a lot of time to improve, even after current leader Ben Averkamp is gone.

Just look at Saturday's result, with Devon Turk earning best in show honors. The freshman went 7-for-12 off the bench, including a 5-for-7 night from 3-point range, on his way to 21 points. That kind of shooting can make you forget how poorly Averkamp shot (1-for-9).

But that has to give Rambler fans hope for the coming seasons. If guys like Turk can step it up when it matters, and when the established leaders aren't getting it done, Loyola will win games that they aren't favored in, or aren't expected to do well in.

Saturday was a revival of the Game of Change, and it just added to the change that is occurring on the north side of Chicago.