ASHLAND, Ky. – Even after the champion is crowned in the inaugural Tomcat Shootout, they will be talking about this game.
It will immediately be a part of Tomcat lore, an instant classic. Years from now, people will say they were there because the story had been told so much.
Dicky Martin, the defacto voice of the Tomcats, couldn’t have found the words to describe it and neither could his father Dick, who called the game on WCMI.
“Speechless,” he said in a raspy tone after the game.
Even the fans shuffling out of the gym after it was over could do nothing but whisper to each other about what they had seen because it had never happened before and would never happen again.
“Did that just happen?” they asked.
It was a game within a game, a scoring duel between two Tomcat stars and a battle of all-stars made up of the great 1960s era. It was the second of a best-of-3 series between the 1960-64 Tomcats and the 1965-69 Tomcats.
There were signs something big was going to happen.
“Hey, Bobby,” teammate Benny Spears said to Bobby Lynch during warmups. “Are you ever going to miss one?”
It was an elimination game for the 1965-69 Tomcats, who dropped the opener in the series 111-106 in a game where they trailed by 18 points. The favored and ultra-talented 1960-64 Tomcats wanted to end the series and move on. They had allowed the 1965-69 Tomcats to get close after scoring 102 points in three quarters.
“That game should have never been that close,” said Ditto Sparks. “We started lollygagging around and let them back in. We’re going to blow them out of the gym tonight. Wait and see.”
This game would be different. It was tied 16 times and had 17 lead changes. The biggest lead of the night belonged to the determined 1965-69 Tomcats at 15 points. But that’s not what was most memorable.
Bobby Lynch and Larry Conley put on a spectacular scoring show, an unending display of basketball fireworks that had fans in the stands looking at each other with wide eyes. There were short shots, long ones, reverse layups, behind-the-back moves, deep corner 3s and everything else imaginable.
“You just started watching them,” said Lynch’s teammate and Conley’s brother, Joe Conley. “I’ve seen them both hot but never hot like this. We all wanted to just go over to the stands and join the fans in watching and cheering.”
Lynch, taking a page out of Pete Maravich’s book, scored 50 on 15-of-26 shooting. He swished three triples and was 17-for-17 at the foul line. Lynch also claimed seven rebounds and even had three assists.
Conley matched him practically basket for basket, scoring 40 points on 16-for-23 shooting and 5-of-7 free throws. He had 11 rebounds and seven assists.
They both played every second of a pulsating game and it was Lynch’s 1965-69 Tomcats who came out the victor, 131-128, in overtime. The extra period belonged to Lynch too with 13 of the 16 points scored.
“Bobby Lynch,” said 1965-69 Tomcat coach Harold Cole shaking his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The absolute best individual performance I’ve ever seen. To do that against these guys?” his voice trailed off. “I’m not sure who else in Tomcat history could do it. When he got hot, they couldn’t stop him from scoring. They tried everything. He was unstoppable tonight.”
Bob Wright, the 1960-64 Tomcat coach, said even with the defense focusing on Lynch, it didn’t seem to matter.
“He scored against everything we threw at him,” Wright said. “And so did Larry for us. Watching those two guys go at it like gunslingers made me want to go buy a ticket. We were witness to basketball greatness tonight.”
Cole made a lineup switch, putting Randy Williams at point guard and it reaped dividends and took pressure off Lynch. Williams collected 10 points and 12 assists. Roger Baldridge also started in Game 2 and had 14 points and 13 rebounds, battling fiercely with the 1960-64 frontline.
“Big game for those two guys,” Cole said. “There’s nobody on this team I’m afraid to put in the game. Whatever five you put out there, they’re all All-Stars and they’re all going to perform like it.”
The game trended toward a blowout early when the 1965-69 Tomcats raced ahead 40-25 by the first minute into the second quarter. But by halftime it was almost all equal, with the 65-69 Tomcats leading 58-57.
“They came at us with everything they had in the first half,” Conley said. “We had to get up from a wheelhouse punch.”
The 1960-64 Tomcats got up and punched back. Ditto Sparks and Harold Sergent, who scored 26 and 22 respectively, got them back in the game.
Late in the third quarter, Spears scored from 15-feet for an 82-76 lead. But an 8-0 run gave the 1960-64 Tomcats an 84-82 advantage and the game remained tight to the end.
Spears drove for a basket to make it 111-108 with 2:09 remaining but Sparks and Sergent answered with baskets and Conley made one of two free throws for a 113-111 lead for the 1960-64 Tomcats.
Spears again had the answer, tying it at 113, and Lynch was knocked to the floor after getting a steal. He dusted himself off and hit two free throws with the net barely moving to put the 1965-69 Tomcats in front 115-113.
After a timeout by Wright, the 1960-64 Tomcats went to Conley who, after being double-teamed, dished it out to Hilton in the corner where he nailed a 12-footer at the buzzer to tie it up and force overtime.
“That was so discouraging to have the game there,” Spears said. “But Hilton hit a clutch shot and Conley showed unselfishness with that pass. We had three people collapsing on him. He didn’t force it. The guy must have eyes in the back of his head. I don’t know how he could see Bob was open in the corner.”
Lynch and Conley had a similar dual in the overtime with Lynch holding a 13-11 edge.
“You’d think they would have cooled down by the overtime,” Joe Conley said.
They tried fouling Lynch in the overtime, but he never missed. His 17th consecutive free throw made it 128-120 with 2:06 left in overtime. Conley scored six to cut the deficit to 130-128 but they could get no closer. Williams hit a free throw with .05 left to set the final margin, setting off a celebration where Lynch was carried off the floor on the shoulders of fans.
“Well, that was a tough one to lose but what a performance to witness from two of the greatest Tomcats ever,” Wright said.
The fans agreed and the buzz was already starting for Game 3.
“I can’t wait,” said Joe Conley, who was eating from a bag of popcorn on the way out of the gym. “I’m ready now.”
1965-69 TOMCAT ALL-STARS (131) – Williams 2-14 5-6 10, Jackson 4-5 0-0 9, Lynch 15-26 17-17 50, Spears 6-9 2-4 14, Baldridge 6-16 3-3 16, Kleykamp 1-2 2-3 4, Wheeler 3-5 0-0 6, M.Griffith 2-7 2-2 7, Owens 4-7 0-0 9, Conley 2-4 2-2 6. FG: 45-95. FT: 33-37. 3FG: 8-25 (Williams 1-6, Jackson 1-2, Lynch 3-7, Baldridge 1-3, Wheeler 0-1, M.Griffith 1-3, Owens 1-3). Rebounds: 44 (Jackson 5, Lynch 7, Spears 3, Baldridge 13, Kleykamp 4, Wheeler 6, Owens 1, Conley 1, M.Griffith 4). Assists: 26 (Williams 12, Jackson 2, Lynch 3, Spears 1, Baldridge 2, Kleykamp 3, M.Griffith 3). PF: 23. Turnovers: 13.
1960-64 TOMCAT ALL-STARS (128) – Sparks 10-25 6-6 26, Hilton 4-10 2-2 11, Conley 16-23 5-7 40, Sergent 8-15 4-6 22, Smith 1-5 0-4 2, Beam 5-7 1-1 11, Branham 0-3 2-2 2, Cram 2-5 2-2 6, Wright 0-1 2-3 2, McKenzie 3-7 1-1 8. FG: 49-101. FT: 23-31. 3FG: 7-26 (Sparks 0-7, Hilton 1-4, Conley 3-5, Sergent 2-5, Beam 0-2, McKenzie 1-2). Rebounds: 52 (Sparks 3, Hilton 5, Conley 11, Sergent 10, Smith10, Beam 2, Branham 1, Cram 5, Wright 3, McKenzie 2). Assists: 27 (Sparks 7, Conley 7, Sergent 3, Smith 3, Beam 2, Branham 1, Wright 1, Cram 2, McKenzie 1). PF: 27. Turnovers: 16.
1965-69 TOMCATS 38 20 30 27 16 – 131
1960-64 TOMCATS 25 32 34 24 13 – 128