Vanderbilt has had dozens of games decided in its favor with the aid of a buzzer-beating shot. I wrote about Tom Hagan's and Bo Wyenandt's heroics last week; John Ed Miller's buzzer-beater will be discussed in a future story. Steve Grant, Dickie Keffer, and Chris Lawson all hit memorable last-second shots. Grant's was the only three-point attempt of his career, when he beat Georgia with a long trey in 1990. Lawson's tip-in upset a No. 9-ranked Louisville team in 1992. Keffer hit a shot at least 10 feet behind the top of the key to beat Ole Miss in 1976.
Then there is Terry Compton, who did it on successive nights in the 1971 Vanderbilt Invitational Tournament. On the first night against Bradley, there were five seconds left in a tie game. Vandy had to go the entire length of the floor. Tom Arnholt hit Lee Fowler breaking hard toward the frontcourt. Fowler drove to the foul line and started to jump for the last shot. At the last second, he passed to a breaking Compton, who caught the ball and shot in the same motion. The ball was a little short and hung on the front of the rim before falling through for the victory.
The next night against a very good Memphis State team, Compton repeated virtually the same play, but this time Vandy trailed by one. The shot was on the mark, giving the Commodores the VIT trophy.
Two Vanderbilt players stand out above the crowd as players who had that knack for taking and making the final shot. Barry Goheen performed his magic after the advent of ESPN and the other cable sports networks. His seven buzzer-beaters in four seasons made him something of a cult hero. However, another player from a quarter century earlier accomplished a similar feat without all the notoriety. Roger Schurig was the original Barry Goheen. He won five games in one season with last-second heroics.
Schurig, a handsome, 6-3 guard from St. Louis, came to Vanderbilt as a freshman in the 1960-61 season, but he rarely played on the freshman team. He had suffered an eye injury prior to enrolling at Vandy and wasn't healthy until the next year. His academic standing prevented Coach Roy Skinner from using him in 1961-62, his sophomore year. He was given a redshirt. In 1962-63, he was eligible once again and started as a redshirt sophomore. One word describes his shooting ability-- streaky. He would miss ten in a row, then sink ten in a row. He could score 30 points one night on 18 shots and then disappear for three games. But, when a game was on the line, Schurig's shooting percentage went from 40 percent to near 100 percent.
In the 1962-63 season, the Commodores were 4-2 as they headed to the Palmetto State to play in the Poinsettia tournament between the holidays. The black and gold won a tough opener over Clemson 60-58 and faced Furman for the title the next evening.
Furman led by three late in the game, and three Vandy starters, Bob Scott, Jerry Hall, and John Russell, had fouled out. The Paladins went into a stall, but Vandy's other sophomore guard, John Ed Miller, stole the ball and scored to cut the lead to one with 0:10 to go. Furman threw in the ball against the Vandy press, and Schurig stole the pass. He fired a 20-footer from behind the top of the key and swish, Vandy won, 69-68.
The Commodores returned to Memorial Gym three nights later to face a tough Western Kentucky team led by Darrel Carrier. The two teams fought gamely all night, with the lead changing hands in both halves. The score was tied late at 69-69, and Vandy had the ball with 0:30 to go. The final play was intended for Russell, with Snake Grace there for a potential putback, but it didn't materialize. Schurig got the ball as the clock hit 0:03. He drove to the left and fired an off-balance shot with 0:01 to go. It hit nothing but net, and for the second game in a row, he won a game on a buzzer-beater.
The next game was at Tennessee against the Vols in Ray Mears' first season. Schurig picked up where he left off, but it wasn't a last-second shot this time. Roger Ramjet started the game with a long bucket, and he kept firing from outside. Shots kept falling from 20 feet out. Vandy quickly built a double-digit lead, and the Vols were put out of their misery in the first half on their home hardwood. Schurig scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the opening half, as Vandy led 37-20.
In the second period, Schurig continued the torrid shooting pace. His first five shots of the second half were dead center through the rim. He finally missed a close-in shot, before hitting two lay-ups and two foul shots. He ended the game 14-of-17 to set a school shooting record. His 30 points led Vandy to a 68-50 win over the Vols. It was the worst home loss in the entire Ray Mears reign.
Five games later, Vandy found itself 2-3 in the SEC, 9-5 overall. Alabama came to Memorial Gym a half-game ahead in the standings, and all three losses were overtime thrillers. Alabama's tough multiple defenses gave Vandy fits, and the Tide led by double digits in the final 10 minutes of the game. The Commodores were hitting under 30% of their shots at this point, until Schurig went to work.
Vandy ended the game with a flurry of baskets to force overtime at 66-66. Alabama took the lead in the overtime and appeared headed to victory. Up by one and with the ball, the Tide began to stall with 30 seconds to go. A trap forced a lob pass and Snake Grace jumped up high to pick it off. Grace fired a long outlet pass to Schurig, as Vandy ran a 2-on-2 fast break. Schurig drove down the right side of the lane with a Tide defender hawking him from the side. He fired a running, three-foot jumper and banked it through for the basket. That put Vandy up 74-73, and a subsequent defensive stop preserved the win.
Two weeks later, the Vols came to Memorial looking for revenge. Tennessee had beaten Kentucky in Lexington and was coming to Nashville minus Mears, who was suffering from exhaustion. Vandy was now 4-5 in the league and 11-7 overall. Tennessee's three stars, Danny Schultz, A.W. Davis, and Bobby Hogsett, had solid games, while it was the guard tandem of Russell and Schurig who had the hot hands for Vandy. The game stayed within three or four points for the entire night. Hogsett had a chance to win the game, but he missed a free throw with a couple of seconds left, and the game went into overtime at 68-68. Schultz and Russell traded baskets, and the game was tied at 72-72 in the final seconds. Vandy had the ball and played for one shot. To nobody's surprise, the ball went to Schurig. He drove toward the basket at breakneck speed, pulled up, and fired a medium-range jumper with 0:05 left. Bang! It went through the net for his 24th point of the night.
The win lit a fire in the Commodores. In Lexington, with star guard and team captain Russell absent due to injury, the Commodores played Kentucky close. Grace held Wildcat star Cotton Nash well under his average, while Miller replaced Russell in the lineup and led a second-half comeback to tie the game at 67-67. Kentucky held the ball for one shot, but Bob Scott stole the ball. Vandy called time out to set up Schurig. As Schurig drove for a possible last second shot, Kentucky decided it would not become victim number five. Scotty Baesler (future Mayor of Lexington and U.S. Congressman) hacked Schurig, sending him to the line for one-and-one. While Roger had been only 3-of-11 from the field in this game, he was a perfect 8-of-8 at the foul line. He calmly sank both shots to give Vandy its first win at Kentucky in over 30 years, and the first of five wins at Kentucky in the Skinner era.
After another close win over Florida (in which Schurig scored 30) and a decisive win over Georgia, the Commodores closed out the season with No. 10 Georgia Tech at home. At 21-4, 10-3 SEC, Tech was in second place in the SEC, and appeared headed to the NCAA tournament as a replacement for conference champ Mississippi State (the state of Mississippi had denied the Bulldogs the chance to play in the NCAA, as they would have to play integrated teams). It wasn't a last-second Schurig shot that led Vandy to a 75-74 upset; this time it was multiple shots in the closing minutes. Vandy trailed for most of the second half until Schurig caught fire, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the final 4:30 to give Vandy its fifth straight win.
That season Schurig's 17-point average led the team in scoring. He slumped in 1964, however, as John Ed Miller emerged as a high-scoring guard. He was starting to show signs of regaining his form in 1965 when academic troubles forced him off the team. There's no telling how good Vandy's Elite Eight team of 1965 could have been with the Schurig of 1963; we could easily have seen the Commodores playing UCLA for all the marbles.
Tomorrow: The unforgettable Barry Goheen.