At the time, 7:34 p.m. seemed like a normal tip-off time for then Elizabeth City State head men’s basketball coach Dr. Claude Mackey for the contest on January 18, 1990.
But when the Vikings walked out of the locker room and onto the court, the start time was the only normal part about that night.
Normally, when a Division II school plays a Division I school in basketball, it’s against a smaller Division I school. Normally, when a Division II school plays against a Division I school in basketball for the first time in school history, they don’t play the number one team in the country.
That wasn’t the case for the Vikings.
When Dr. Mackey led ECSU out of the tunnel that night, he led the Vikings into a sold-out Allen Fieldhouse and onto the court to face the number one ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
Dr. Mackey scheduled the game with the Jayhawks during the 1987-88 season, the year that the Jayhawks won the National Championship.
“(Kansas) Assistant Coach Ed Manning had been a friend of mine for years,” Mackey said. “When he (Manning) was traded in the ABA (American Basketball Association) from the Carolina Cougars to the New Jersey Nets, I helped he and his family move from Greensboro. He always told me that if there was anything I ever needed, to let him know. I was looking for a money game and so I reached out to him. Credit to him, (Kansas head) Coach (Larry) Brown, and later Coach (Roy) Williams for giving us the opportunity to come play.”
The agreement between Kansas and Elizabeth City State paid the Vikings $14,000, paid for ECSU’s flight and hotel rooms as well as 100 tickets for the Viking faithful who made the trip to Lawrence.
“When I scheduled the game, we had a young team and we had the chance to be really good during the 1989-1990 season. But injuries and eligibility issues crept up, so we went there with what we had,” Mackey said.
The Vikings had improved from 9-18 in 1987-88 to 17-10 in 1988-89. However, the beginning of the 1989-90 season had not gone well for the Vikings, as ECSU had only recorded one win during the first 12 games.
The trip to Lawrence in itself was an experience. Many of the Vikings had never flown before. Outside of the later rounds of the CIAA tournament, ECSU had never played in front of a crowd of that size before. There was also the fact of it being the first Division I contest for the Vikings.
“Our guys were caught up in all of the traditions of playing a game in Allen Fieldhouse. The singing of the KU Fight Song, the ‘Beware of the Phog’ sign in the back, all of our guys were on the court staring and taking it all in,” Mackey said.
No matter the number of firsts for ECSU, at 7:34 p.m. Central Time on January 18, 1990, the basketball was still going to be tipped.
A Division II school with an 1-11 record playing against the number one team in the country in Division I, has an assumed script. The ECSU vs. Kansas game followed that script.
The Jayhawks jumped out to an 18-0 lead.
Kansas led by 31 at halftime by a 56-25 score.
The Jayhawks set a record for the most field goals made in a single game (52), as well as a record for the most made baskets in a half with 31 in the second stanza.
Kansas shot an incredible 63 percent (52-83) from the field, with eight Jayhawks scoring in double figures.
Final score: Kansas 132, Elizabeth City State 65
However, not all was lost for ECSU.
The Vikings had three players score in double figures. Junior Darryl Riddick led things with 16 points, while juniors Tyson Ransom and James Eason both chipped in 14 points for ECSU.
ECSU collected 13 steals and shot 42 percent from the field (28-66), higher than the majority of games the Vikings played in that season.
“No one in the nation had the opportunity that we did tonight (to play the No. 1 team in the country),” junior Darryl Riddick told the Lawrence Journal-World after the game. “I think we came out and played hard. We just wanted to play the best basketball we could possibly play and not be intimidated. I just played my game.”
The Post Game
After the game in Lawrence, the Vikings got back on a plane and flew back into Norfolk, Virginia.
A game with Virginia State awaited.
The Vikings dropped that contest and would only win five more as they finished the season with a 6-22 record.
The game versus Kansas had large implications for the Vikings, as it opened a door for more games against Division I schools.
“Playing Kansas and the way that our team conducted ourselves in that game, led Boise State and Idaho to want to play us during the 1992-93 season,” Mackey stated.
ECSU traveled out to Idaho during that 1992-93 campaign and dropped a contest to Boise State 99-70 but defeated Idaho by a 79-72 score.
But for Mackey, not many things during his coaching experience compares to the game on a cold night in January 1990.
“That experience was special. Not many teams have the opportunity to play the number one team in the country, but we did,” Mackey said. “Even now when I see guys from this team, we talk about that trip, we talk about that game. It is something that they have and will continue to remember for the rest of their lives.”
Information from the Lawrence Journal-World was used in this story.