1950-51 MEN'S BASKETBALL
inducted October 2, 2008
From 1946 to 1950, the Columbia Lions were one of the top college basketball teams in the east. In four years under head coach Gordon Ridings, the Lions won 77 percent of their games, and won the championship of the Eastern Intercollegiate League – the precursor to the Ivy League – twice, finishing second the other two seasons.
Hopes were high on Morningside Heights for another outstanding year in 1950-51. The Lions had won their last nine games of the 1949-50 season. Captain John Azary was coming off a 423-point season, the most prolific scoring year in Columbia Basketball history – and the Lions were returning a deep squad of talented upper classmen and rising sophomores.
Just prior to the campaign – Columbia was dealt a significant blow when coach Ridings took ill with a heart attack just days before the season. Assistant coach Lou Rossini stepped in and took over as acting head coach – at the age of 29.
The Lions rose to the challenge however, winning a pair of games against Tulane on the road and one against Rice in Texas, as Columbia ended the calendar year with a perfect 7-0 record. The Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League season began in January and the Lions faced their traditional slate of Ivy foes, including Cornell.
Cornell returned its starting five from the previous year, including league MVP Walt Ashbaugh. The Big Red carried a 9-0 record into the game while Columbia stood at 7-0, pitting two of the top teams in the east against each other in the league opener.
Columbia emphatically and impressively defeated Cornell in that game, 85-45, behind 19 points and 12 rebounds by Bob Reiss. Captain John Azary was assigned the task of guarding Ashbaugh and held him to zero points as the Lions made a statement against the defending EIL champions.
The second league game was against arch-rival Princeton – the defending league champions. With seconds remaining, and the game in the balance, sixth man Robert Sullivan stole the ball and went in for the layup in a 53-52 victory, the Lions' closest call all year.
Although the Lions lost to a talented Illinois squad in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in a hard-fought 79-71 game – the legacy of this magnificent team still stands as one for the ages.
Statisically, this team’s numbers are staggering: 12-0 in conference play, 21-0 overall, a margin of victory of 20.2 points per game, and 31 straight victories since the end of the 1949-50 season. The Lions set team records in points per game, margin of victory and established a new Eastern League record for field goals.
The 1950-51 squad was the first Ivy League team and the only Columbia team in program history to finish its regular season schedule undefeated. The Lions held a final national ranking of fifth in the United Press poll, third in the Associated Press poll and second in the Dunkel ratings, the precursor to the modern day RPI.
Five Lions were named to the All-Eastern Intercollegiate League team after the season. The league's head coaches voted Azary the most valuable player and a first-team selection. Jack Molinas, Bob Reiss and Al Stein earned second-team honors and Tom Powers was honorable mention. Azary went on to win the Haggerty Award as the top player in the New York metropolitan area and earned All-America recognition from several different media outlets.