Only one team from Illinois has ever won the NCAA basketball tournament, and their path to victory was historic. It was 50 years ago that Loyola beat Cincinnati in overtime to win the national championship in basketball. Along the way, they beat Illinois, Duke, and a Mississippi State team that had previously avoided playing opponents that were racially integrated.
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“Loyola was one of the first major-college teams, University Division teams, as they called them then, the equivalent of Division I today, to regularly start four African-American players,” said Mike Lenehan, author of a book about that Loyola-Mississippi State game: Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 - The Team that Changed the Color of College Basketball.
Mississippi State had to defy a court order and sneak out of Mississippi in order to play the game in East Lansing, Mich. Mississippi State won the SEC title in 1963 for the fourth time in five years, but on the previous occasions had declined the tournament bid so as not to run afoul of this policy against playing integrated teams.
Loyola won what came to be known as the Game of Change, 61-51. A plaque outside Jenison Fieldhouse on the Michigan State University campus commemorates the event.