'The greatest upset the Auditorium has ever known'; Fifty years ago, Gearin's free throw helped Greyhounds cap 20-1 season with improbable win over Crusaders.

Byline: Paul Jarvey


The seeds of the upset were sown amid the rubble left by the Worcester Tornado, the 1953 twister that killed 94 people, including a priest and two nuns at Assumption College.

The storm devastated the school, and the Rev. Armand Desautels, then president of the college, decided that Assumption would start offering basketball scholarships as a way to raise awareness and money for the institution.

His decision paid off on March 7, 1957 - 50 years ago this week - when Assumption upended mighty Holy Cross, 69-68, before a full house at Worcester Auditorium, capping a magnificent season in which the Greyhounds were just two points short of going undefeated.

Assumption opened the campaign by beating Providence in overtime on the road and finished it by upsetting HC, so no one could say the Hounds couldn't play with the big boys.

Joe O'Brien, Assumption's first full-scholarship player, finished his collegiate career in style that night, scoring 15 points and providing the kind of leadership that would make him a successful coach at his alma mater and that his teammates say was a key ingredient in beating HC.

The team was half Jersey guys -- O'Brien, Joe Sweeney, Ronnie Goba, Buddy Masterson, Fred Scollan - and half local kids - Herbie Dyson out of South High, Joe Lane from St. John's, Danny Gearin of St. Stephen's, Joe Walsh of St. Peter's.

The coach was Andy Laska.

There were storylines galore. O'Brien's coach at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City was Roy Leenig, the new HC coach. His high school teammate was now the Crusaders' captain, George Waddleton. HC great Tommy Heinsohn steered Goba to Assumption. Laska, of course, had played on the Holy Cross NCAA championship team 10 years earlier.

The game was the story, though, the way Assumption fell behind early but kept battling back and how Gearin - "Little Danny Gearin," "cherubic faced Gearin," according to Paul Johnson's story in the next day's Telegram - swished the winning free throw after time had expired.

"I can almost see him now as I'm talking to you," Goba said of Gearin last week. "He was so calm and relaxed."

Holy Cross was holding for the last shot, but Waddleton was called for a charging foul as he drove to the hoop.

Gearin - "and he might well have stifled a yawn before shooting, so calm was he at the line," Johnson wrote - hit the shot, sending the crowd of more than 3,000 into hysteria.

"It was a classic David vs. Goliath," said Sweeney who now...

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