In just less than eight months, the WVU Coliseum, home of the Mountaineers since 1970, will celebrate its 50th year of hosting West Virginia basketball. With such a historic milestone coming up, Mountaineer Maven will be spending that time reviewing some of the most iconic moments the hallowed building has ever seen.
After reviewing the history of the building’s construction and the concert that christened it, it’s time to get down to the thing the structure is most known for: Mountaineer basketball.
After years of building and a few months of other events, the first basketball game played in the confines of the Coliseum was the 1970-71 season opener against Colgate. On the first of December, 1970, the old gold and blue took the hardwood to battle the visiting Raiders.
Leading the Mountaineers out onto the court was second-year head coach Sonny Moran, promoted from his assistant coach’s position when former leader Bucky Waters returned to Duke, where he had served as an assistant under Vic Bubas, to take over from his mentor.
The first starting lineup in the new arena was certainly a versatile one. In the backcourt was high-scoring soon-to-be All-American Wil Robinson and Charleston native Levi Phillips, a promising sophomore scorer.
Up front, Moran employed a pair of versatile forwards in junior college transfer Sam Oglesby and Skip Kintz, the man to score the final points in the old Field House. In the middle, the tallest man in school history, 7’1” Mike Heitz, held down the center position.
It would fittingly be the West Virginia native Phillips to score the first basket in the new Coliseum, netting two of his ten points on the night. While Phillips scored the first points, it was Robinson who gave the building its first great performance.
Pouring in 39 points and pulling down seven rebounds at just 6’1”, the Uniontown, Pennsylvania native opened his junior season with a preview of what Mountaineer fans would see out of the future ABA guard. He went on to average an even 25.0 points per game that season before increasing that number 29.4 as a senior the next year.
It was not just a high-scoring game for Robinson as both teams broke the 90-point mark with the Mountaineers walking away with a 113-92 win to start the history of the WVU Coliseum with a bang.
Robinson and Phillips were joined in double figures by Oglesby with 12, Dick Symons with 10 and another Charleston High School graduate in Curtis Price who tallied 13 off the bench. Oglesby also put together a double-double, hauling in 10 boards while the third member of Moran’s Charleston trio Larry “Deacon” Harris nabbed 10 to go with his nine points,
Colgate was paced by 29 points from guard Don Ward who received support out of Nick Scaccia with 22 and Rich Leael with 15.
The first basketball game at the Coliseum was a wild one to say the least and still stands as the 12th-highest scoring game in school history and fifth all-time in the building. From Levi Phillips first basket to the final horn, the Mountaineers displayed an exciting brand of basketball that would define Moran’s years and set the tone for the Coliseum’s track record as the home for great games.
On the next instalment of “The Coliseum at 50,” it’ll be time to look at a game that happened just a week later. Despite a loss, the Mountaineers battled the third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in the first great game the Coliseum ever saw.
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