PITTSBURGH — While most of the country was cheering for UNC-Asheville to pull off the upset of No. 1-seeded Syracuse on Thursday, former Kansas State player and coach Darryl Winston found himself pulling for the Orange.
“It’s so ironic because I was talking with Chuckie Williams and another friend of mine, and they were like ‘oh boy we want Asheville to win,’” Winston said by phone Thursday evening. “I said ‘no, I want Syracuse.’”
Winston wanted his alma mater, Kansas State, to have the opportunity to get revenge against Syracuse on Saturday, a wish he was granted as the Orange (32-2) came back to defeat Asheville 72-65.
“We owe Syracuse one and I’m sticking by that,” Winston said.
Winston was a sophomore on the 1975 K-State team that lost to Syracuse 95-87 in overtime of the NCAA East Regional final played in Providence, R.I. Williams’ shot from the corner put K-State ahead by two with just seven seconds left in regulation, but Syracuse center Rudy Hackett’s left-handed hook shot near the free-throw line dropped through the net at the buzzer to tie the game. The Orange proceeded to outscore foul-plagued K-State 19-11 in overtime to advance to the Final Four.
Saturday’s meeting in Pittsburgh will be the two teams’ first since that contest 37 years ago.
“The Syracuse game was so tough because we were playing for the Final Four and we had the game won,” Winston recalled. “We messed up some defensive assignments and the guy just caught the ball and threw up a lucky hook and it went in. I’ll vividly remember that game for the rest of my life.”
That 1975 team, considered one of the best of coach Jack Hartman’s tenure, featured Williams and freshman Mike Evans at guard. Carl Gerlach played center while Winston and Doug Snider were the regular forwards. In an era before the three-point field goal, Williams scored 35 points in that regional final loss and Evans added 20 more.
Winston, who played for the Wildcats from 1973-77, has one other game he’ll never forget: A 67-66 NCAA-tournament loss to the eventual national champion, Marquette, in Oklahoma City in 1977. That was also an NCAA Regional final. Winston tipped in a potential game-winning missed free throw at the buzzer, but it was disallowed because officials ruled that missed free throws could not be tipped in. The rule was changed the following year.
Winston vowed he’d never return to Oklahoma City after that loss, but he broke that promise two years ago when K-State played there in the NCAA tournament. That was a more pleasant experience for the former Wildcat, as K-State won both games and advanced to the Elite Eight.
“I was at those games and it was fun to get that Oklahoma City jinx off of me,” said Winston, who also served as a coach on Hartman’s staff from 1982-86. “So now this will be the opportunity to get that Syracuse jinx off of me.”
Winston, who currently resides in Topeka and runs a scouting service called “win-win,” said K-State coach Frank Martin reminds him of his former coach.
“I’ve met Frank numerous times,” Winston said. “I’ve been to his practices and I know him as a person. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. In a lot of ways — and you can take it from a former player — he has a lot of Jack Hartman in him. That’s what makes me smile. I have a lot of admiration for him.
“People used to tell me ‘boy, Frank Martin’s stares are really, really scary.’ Well I’ll tell you what, Jack Hartman had a stare too.”
Winston added that he’s extremely proud of the job Martin has done in bringing K-State basketball back into national prominence.
“I was still coaching at Saint Mary’s College in California when the streak was going on with KU and stuff,” he said. “And it really hurt to see that going on with my program that I was involved in for years.
“To see what Frank Martin has done — and starting with (Bob) Huggins — what they’ve done for Kansas State basketball makes former players like myself so proud. And I talk to all the former players like Chuckie Williams, Rolando Blackman. And we’re all excited about what coach Martin has done for the program. We’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Now all Winston wants from Martin is a win over Syracuse.
“I will be on the edge of my seat Saturday,” he said. “I promise you the purple blood in me will be pumping really hard on Saturday.”