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 the players 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's 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 an 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.