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THE LAST WORD: Basketball fights inexcusable, now and in 1972

Kerry Hubartt

The story of the week in men’s college sports was Tuesday’s basketball brawl at the Kansas State-Kansas game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., home court of the Jayhawks, who won the game easily, 80-61.

The incident began when, with just seconds on the clock and the game out of reach, Kansas State guard DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from Kansas’ Silvio De Sousa and raced downcourt for a layup as time expired. De Sousa sprinted after him on defense, blocked Gordon’s shot and stood over him and taunted him after he fell to the floor.

The actual fight, however, precipitated when Kansas State players, led by Antonio Gordon and James Love III left the Kansas State bench and went after De Sousa, who was knocked down. Kansas player David McCormack then joined the fight and others raced in as well. Both head coaches, assistants and the officials tried to break up the fight.

Not only were punches thrown, De Sousa picked up a stool and held it over his head before it fell out of his hands.

It was reminiscent of an even more violent brawl 48 years ago Saturday, Jan. 25, 1972, in Minneapolis in a game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Ohio State Buckeyes at Williams Arena.

With 36 seconds left in that game and the Buckeyes leading 50-44, Gopher Clyde Turner was ejected for a flagrant foul after he knocked Ohio State’s 7-foot center Luke Witte to the floor. Minnesota’s Corky Taylor offered a hand to help him up, then abruptly kneed Witte in the groin. Gopher players Ron Behagen and Dave Winfield (now a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer) came off the bench, and Behagen, who had fouled out, stomped on Witte’s head.

“Fans came out of the stands and Winfield joined the chaos,” according to a 45th anniversary story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “The game was promptly called off. Witte was removed on a stretcher, suffering from a concussion and a gashed chin that required stitches at the university hospital. Two of his Buckeyes teammates were also hospitalized.

“Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke, who was in the stands, slapped Taylor and Behagen with season-ending suspensions for what Ohio’s governor called ‘a public mugging.'”

Tuesday’s frightening melee in Lawrence, Kan., wasn’t quite as violent — no one was carried off on a stretcher. No one even got hurt.

After the teams returned to their locker rooms, refs determined from the game monitor which players actually participated in the fight and which ones left the bench — De Sousa, McCormack, Antonio Gordon and Love were the ones who fought. Time was put back on the clock, and the head coaches and players, other than those ejected, returned to the floor to inbound the ball and finish the game. To what end, I’m not sure.

In the end, the Big 12 office, Kansas and Kansas State agreed De Sousa would be suspended for 12 games, Love for eight, Antonio Gordon for three and McCormack for two. Those who left the bench were reprimanded.

Nothing like what happened at Kansas or at Minnesota should ever be tolerated. Period. A good example of proper conduct under such circumstances occurred on the same night last week as the Kansas-Kansas State game when Illinois guard Alan Griffin was called for a flagrant foul 2 and ejected from the game with 12:21 left in the first half at Purdue because he stomped on Sasha Stefanovic’s midsection after the Purdue guard drove for a layup.

Purdue fans booed. That was it.

Nobody threw things on the floor. No Purdue player punched Griffin in revenge. Nobody left the bench. No. 21 Illinois went on to win the game 79-62, and Griffin went on to apologize on social media to Stefanovic and Purdue as well as to Illinois and its fans after being suspended for the next two games.

As ESPN basketball commentator Jay Bilas wrote following the Kansas-Kansas State debacle, “There was plenty of blame to go around, and several contributing factors to the fight, but no excuses. Those who participated in the fight were wrong, period. Yet, as all reasonable people can agree, once we establish that the fight was wrong and those involved should be sanctioned, it is also useful to examine the factors that led to the fight and how such a fight can be avoided in the future.”

There was no reason for Gordon to steal the ball from De Sousa when the final seconds were ticking away and the game was out of reach. There was no reason for De Sousa to follow him down the court to stop his shot. And there was certainly no call for him to taunt him after blocking the shot. A called foul by an official or a timeout by a coach could have stopped it all before things got out of hand.

Perhaps easier said than done, I know. But those in control of the game need to be ready to take such actions as well as to demand self-control and proper conduct of their players and staff ahead of time.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.