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Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Hamline beats St. Thomas for first time in 36 years (and three arenas)

O’Shaughnessy Hall was one of the great basketball gyms in the history of the human race. It was squeezed in on the third floor of the athletic building at the College of St. Thomas (which now fancies itself as a university).

The first time I covered a game there was during my 2½ years (1966-68) at the St. Cloud Times. The game between St. Thomas and St. John’s on that winter night was so important that Mike Augustin, my boss and Johnnies beat reporter, brought me along to write a second story off the game.

Might have been a senior night for the Tommies, I’m not sure, but the lights were darkened for the introduction of the home team. A spotlight was placed on a large hoop with a paper center that the lead St. Thomas player would break as they ran onto the court.

Before this, there was the sound of someone running across the court in the darkness and then a student in St. John’s red came bursting through the paper. All Hades broke loose.

The Tommies moved to a modern gym, Schoenecker Arena, in the fall of 1981. O’Shaughnessy remained until a few years back, when the building was torn down to make room for a marvelous student center.

John Tauer, the Tommies’ men’s basketball coach, was an outstanding player at the school in the mid-‘90s. He became an assistant for Steve Fritz and worked the summer camps at the school. O’Shaughnessy Hall was used for campers.

“In the summer, you would be drenched in sweat just walking into the place,’’ Tauer said. “We called it the ‘Hot Box,’ although not with the campers. We used to tell them it was the ‘Ice Box.’

“Then, the campers would go up there and be very perplexed. They would tell us it was not cool like they expected.’’

St. Thomas is on its second arena since leaving the Hot Box to pickup games and campers 35 years ago. It now the Steve Fritz Court at Schoenecker Arena, which is part of the school’s Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex.

And it was there on Wednesday night that a historic event took place:

Hamline defeated Tauer’s Tommies and did so handily, 74-61.

The Tommies are the defending Division III national champions. The Tommies have had at least a share of the MIAC regular-season title for the previous 11 seasons.

Hamline was 4-21 last season. The Pipers last won an MIAC title in 1960, when the legendary Joe Hutton was the coach. That was the last of Joe’s 19 conference titles in 35 seasons.

And here’s the nugget on Wednesday’s upset for the Pipers that got me:

Hamline had not won a game at St. Thomas since 1980. And that means, the last time the Pipers won at St. Thomas, Tom Feely was in his last year as the coach and the Tommies were still playing in the third-floor walkup.

Hamline’s last victory in the annual two-game series was in 2011  in Hutton Fieldhouse, another ancient and wonderful gym, and one in which the Pipers continue to play.

Jim Hayes is in his fourth season at Hamline. Hayes played for the Pipers in the mid-‘90s. He had excellent run as an assistant to Guy Kalland at Carleton, and then was an assistant with the Tommies.

The Hamline program was torn apart in the middle of the 2012-13 season, when there were allegations that a player had punched a woman on an early-season road trip. Coach Nelson Whitmore was suspended in January and left the school a month later.

Athletic Director Jason Verdugo served out the rest of the schedule, and then hired Hayes. There were lumps to be taken for the new coach, including 0-2 with losses to Augsburg and Bethel to start this MIAC schedule.

And then came Wednesday. The Pipers had lost 38 in a row at St. Thomas, and were 0-37 in the two Schoeneckers.

Yup. They hadn't won since the Hot Box. Fantastic.

St. Thomas football's loss stirs memories of similar fate for St. John's in 1991

The self-destruction in which St. Thomas engaged to be eliminated in the NCAA Division III playoffs on Saturday sent me back to a scene in an alcove at an old, cold stadium in Dayton, Ohio.

The Tommies had an overall home winning streak of 19 games and a playoff winning streak of 13 entering this quarterfinal game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The Titans had taken out St. John’s a week earlier, so coach Glenn Caruso and his players knew this was the true start of the playoff challenge – after crushing victories over Northwestern (Roseville) and Coe in the first two rounds.

Senior Alex Fenske, after serving time as the backup to John Gould, had earned the starting quarterback job for 2016 by holding off two Division I transfers: Jacques Perra (Minnesota) and Gabe Green (Southern Miss).

Fenske did more than hold the job. He was the MIAC’s MVP, as the Tommies again went unbeaten in the league (8-0) and in the regular season (10-0).

Caruso is now 99-15 since he arrived at St. Thomas in 2008 and seven of those losses have come in the playoffs. The Tommies were 2-8 in 2007, the last season before Caruso, and they now have lost the same number of regular-season games – eight – in his nine seasons as the coach.

This 34-31 loss has to be high on the tough-to-take list. The Tommies had eight turnovers – with six being charged to Fenske (five interceptions, one fumble). The fourth interception wasn’t on him, a ball was batted and an Oshkosh player made a diving interception at the line of scrimmage.

The next one, though ... it was an overthrow that sailed to the Titans and ended a St. Thomas’ possession that could have wiped out Oshkosh’s 34-31 lead, either with a tying field goal or a winning touchdown.

Oshkosh is good, but eight turnovers to none for the opponent and you only lose by three … that’s a game ceded to the other team.

The deal is, I’ve seen worse from an unbeaten MIAC champion in the playoffs. John Gagliardi’s 1991 team at St. John's had a talent level to be a worthy national champion.

The defense was fantastic, led by a front that included Steve O’Toole and Jim Wagner, two all-time tough guys for the Johnnies. They had Pat Mayew to throw the football, many receivers and Jay Conzemius to run it.

There was a 16-team bracket for Division III football (it’s now 32) in 1991. The Johnnies had thrashed Coe 75-2 in the first round and defeated Wisconsin-LaCrosse 29-10 in the second round.

A year later, LaCrosse would win the Division III title, so that had to be an impressive victory for the Johnnies.

The Dayton Flyers were the Ohio powerhouse of Division III football at the time. There had been much complaining about the financial advantages of a school with Division I basketball to be playing in non-scholarship Division III football.

Earlier in 1991, the NCAA had passed legislation forcing Dayton and other D-I basketball schools to move up. The change would take place for the 1993 football season.

Dayton and four other schools formed the Pioneer League, the only non-scholarship Division I football conference. It has been going on for 24 years and the champion gets a spot in the FCS playoff break.

San Diego was the team this year. It pulled a first-round upset of Cal Poly and then was clobbered by North Dakota State in Fargo on Saturday.

The ’91 Johnnies still had to deal with Dayton at its full D-III force in the semifinals. It shouldn’t have mattered. The Johnnies should have beaten the Flyers on that dank Dec. 7 in Dayton’s stadium.

Except … 10 turnovers. Not eight, like the Tommies this weekend, but 10.

Mayew had thrown four interceptions in 317 passes during the Johnnies' 11 victories. He threw four in 21 passes vs. Dayton. The Johnnies had lost six fumbles in the 11 victories. They lost six fumbles against the Flyers.

Dayton had won 24 in a row at home and had one loss in its prior 35 games. The Flyers were the D-III champs in 1989, had lost a playoff game in 1990, and was the favorite again in 1991.

Yet, with 10 turnovers, the margin was only 19-7 for Dayton. O’Toole, Wagner and the rest of the Johnnies’ defense were brilliant.

What I’ve always remembered was the post-game scene in the alcove outside the bare, brick-walled visitors locker room.

More than anything, what might have made Gagliardi the winningest coach in college football history is the misery that he went through after a loss. And here was John, sitting on a folding chair in that alcove, with his head in his hands as I tried to get a couple of quotes for my Star Tribune account of the turnover carnage.

Poor John could barely mutter. And then players like O’Toole, a great senior, were coming out of the locker room after showering, walking over to Gag, patting him on the back, telling him things were going to be OK.

The men of St. John’s, after an excruciating loss and end of many magnificent playing careers, comforting their legendary coach ….

Twenty-five years later, that remains one of the wonderful scenes of my sports writing life.

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